Chelmsford TUC

In Your Workplace

Noise can be a Health Hazard

Noise is measured in units called decibels and prolonged exposure to excessive noise can cause damage to the sensitive hair cells and nerves of the inner ear. This can lead to hearing loss which is ultimately irreversible.

Similar damage to the ear can be done by exposure to loud, explosive noises. Exposure to sustained noise can also lead to stress with its associated circulatory, digestive and psychological problems.

The "Noise at Work Regulations (1989)" places a general responsibility on employers to reduce noise levels wherever possible, and requires specific action to be taken in a number of specific circumstances.

The Regulations lay down three Action Levels.

The First Level ocurs when the average daily exposure to noise reaches 85 dB(A).

The Second Action Level occurs at 90 dB(A)

The Third Action Level relates to the "peak sound pressure" generated by explosive noises. The following will give you an idea of noise levels:-

  • Circular saw: approximately 100 dB(A)
  • Offset litho printer: approximately 87 dB(A)
  • Lathe: approximately 85 dB(A)
  • Busy traffic: approximately 80 dB(A).

If the employer has reason to believe that employees are exposed to noise levels above the First Action Level then the employer must ensure that an assessment is carried out by a competent person.

The employer is required to give employees information about the hazard and to issue personal ear protection on request. At 90 dB(A) there is a specific duty on the employer to reduce the noise level to below 90 dB(A) if this is "reasonably practicable". If this is not possible then the employer must issue ear protectors and ensure that these are worn. These steps must also be taken at the Third Action Level. Ear protection zones must be clearly marked with the approved sign.

Employees must also take reasonable care of their own health and safety and at the Second and Third Action Levels, must comply with instructions to wear ear protectors.

TUC Working in a Noisy Environment Guide

This guide explains how working in a noisy environment can affect you and others at work. It explains the employer’s responsibilities and outlines what help is available to employees.