Apart from the traditionally noisy industries, some of today’s newer sectors are equally exposed to high levels of workplace noise. Call centres and the music business spring to mind.
Although workplace din is not as fierce as it may have been in the past, around one million employees in the UK are currently at risk of developing industrial deafness, according to statistics compiled by the Health and Safety Executive.
Of these people, most will work in a particular profession that will be classed as a high risk for employees developing hearing problems as a consequence of their work environment.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 is a set of guidelines put in place to ensure that workers’ health (specifically hearing) is not at risk when carrying out their daily duties. These regulations impose a duty on employers to concentrate their efforts on controlling noise risks and noise exposure.
Wherever there is noise at work, employers should be looking for alternative processes, equipment, and/or working methods which would make the work quieter, or mean people are exposed for shorter times. Employers should also be keeping up with recognised good practice consistent with the standard for noise control within their respective industry.
The regulations require the completion of remedies for higher risk sound levels that are reasonably practicable, but where exposures are lower, employers are only expected to take actions that are relatively inexpensive and simple to carry out.
Risk assessments using competent experts, will show where employees are likely to be exposed at, or above the upper exposure action values. The noise risk assessment should:-
- identify where there may be a risk from noise and who is likely to be affected
- contain a reliable estimate of employees’ exposures, and compare the exposure with the exposure action values and limit values
- identify what needs to be done to comply with the law – for example whether noise-control measures, or hearing protection are needed, and if so, where and what type
- identify any employees who need to be provided with health surveillance and whether any are at particular risk
Estimating employees’ exposure
It’s essential that the employer can show that their estimate of employees’ exposure is representative of the work that they do. It needs to take account of:-
- the work they do, or are likely to do
- the ways in which they do the work
- how it might vary from one day to the next
The estimate must be based on reliable information based on measurements in the workplace, information from other similar workplaces, or data from suppliers of machinery.
Employers must record the findings of the risk assessment in an action plan. This must include anything they identify as being necessary to comply with the law, setting out what they have done, and what they are going to do, with a timetable saying who will be responsible for the work.
There should be a regular review to make sure that employers continue to do all that is reasonably practicable to control the noise risks, and naturally if circumstances in the workplace change and affect noise exposures, then the risk assessment should also be reviewed. Even if it appears that nothing has changed, employers are recommended not to leave it for more than about two years without checking whether a review is needed.
Competence is an extremely important factor for the risk assessment. It has to be drawn up by someone competent to carry out the task, and be based on advice and information from people who are competent to provide it. Contact the Cardinus consultancy team by completing the online contact form or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org