Noise in Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs)

The problem

Exposure to noise at work can cause irreversible hearing damage. It is one of the commonest health problems and can be difficult to detect as the effects build up gradually over time.

Most Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs) have processes which emit high noise levels exceeding the 80dB(A) and 85dB(A) levels at which employers are required to take action under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

Managing the risk - hierarchy of control measures

Protection is best achieved by controlling noise at source. Follow this sequence to reduce exposure - wearing hearing protection is the last resort:

  • When purchasing machinery or plant, obtain noise data from the supplier to inform your decision. The noise levels should be relevant to where workers will actually be.
  • Move noisy machinery/plant into areas where there are no workers, or few workers (eg into an outbuilding or dedicated room).
  • Where noisy machinery/plant has to remain in the working area, enclose it within a sound-insulating enclosure if possible. Anti-vibration machine mountings may also be required.
  • Where enclosure is not possible, reduce noise by other engineering means such as:
    • lining guards/panels with noise dampening material
    • providing acoustic screens
    • lining the inside of hoppers with impact-deadening material
    • fitting anti-vibration mountings
    • fitting silencers to exhaust systems
    • ensuring good maintenance to stop rattles and prevent noise from wear.
  • Duration of exposure can be reduced by job rotation or providing a noise refuge.
  • Where noise exposure is between the lower exposure action value (EAV) and the upper exposure action value (UEAV) employees must be provided with hearing protection if they ask for it.
  • Where noise levels still exceed 85dB(A) ensure workers wear hearing protection (earplugs or earmuffs) within the designated and clearly marked zones.

Control of Noise in MRFs

The table below identifies

  • the equipment in a MRF is likely to expose employees to excessive noise levels.
  • the potential exposure ie above the lower exposure action value (EAV) 80dB(A) or above the upper exposure action value (UEAV) 85 dB(A).
  • Suggested reasonably practicable controls.
Task/Equipment Potential daily exposure Reasonably practicable controls
Glass Tip/Move Telehandler/tipper >UEAV Use a vehicle with a "quiet cab" and keep doors shut.  
Shredders and Granulators >UEAV
(manually fed machines)
  • Load by vehicle.
  • Site machine/s outside or in own room with finger curtain doors.
  • Use resilient mountings to prevent noise transmission via floor/structure.
Picking Lines >UEAV
  • Provide a well constructed noise refuge.
  • Fit open sort chutes with  lining/baffles
  • Provide finger curtains at openings to refuge
  • Reduce drop heights to conveyor.
  • Ensure machinery is well maintained.
Magnetic/Air Separators and Balers <EAV (because not manned - but high source of noise)
  • Site away from work stations and noise refuge
  • Set/configure air flow and overband magnet to prevent turbulence and reduce drop gaps.
Floor Tipping/Sorting >UEAV
  • Mix recycled material (co mingle)
  • Use a vehicle with a "quiet cab" and keep doors shut.
Trommels and Screens. >UEAV
  • Locate away from workers.
  • Load by vehicle with "quiet cab" and doors kept shut.
  • Use resilient  mounts.

General guidance can be found on the HSE's Noise website.

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Updated 2021-07-01