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Your legal responsibility

As an employer, you must try to remove or reduce risks from exposure to noise so that you can protect your employees' hearing. When you carry out The 5-step approach to risk assessments, be aware of any risks associated with noise. Where the risks are low, you may take simple and inexpensive actions. Where the risks are high, you should manage them using a prioritised noise-control action plan.

Permanent hearing damage can be caused immediately by sudden, extremely loud, explosive noises, such as from guns or cartridge-operated machines.

However, hearing damage is usually gradual because of prolonged exposure to noise and it's not always easy to realise how badly damaged an individual's hearing has become.

Hearing loss isn't the only problem. People may develop tinnitus, a condition that can lead to disturbed sleep.

Young people's hearing is just as much at risk as older people's hearing.

What law applies?

  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006

When the law doesn't apply

The regulations don't apply to:

  • Members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities, or those making an informed choice to go to noisy places; or
  • Low-level noise that is a nuisance but causes no risk of hearing damage.

Noise problems in the workplace

As a simple guide, you'll probably need to do something about the noise if:

  • The noise is intrusive for most of the working day
  • Your employees have to raise their voices to talk when about 2m apart for at least part of the day
  • Your employees use noisy powered tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day
  • Your business is in a noisy industry, such as construction, demolition manufacturing
  • There are noises due to impacts (such as hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools etc.), explosive sources such as cartridge operated tools or detonators, or guns

Noise exposure levels

What you do to control noise risks will depend on:

  • How much noise your employees are exposed to, averaged over a working day or week; and
  • The maximum noise (peak sound pressure) that your employees are exposed in a working day.

You must take action if the following levels of noise exposure are exceeded:

Lower exposure action values:

  • Daily or weekly exposure of 80 decibels (dB)
  • Peak sound pressure of 135 dB

Upper exposure action values:

  • Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB
  • Peak sound pressure of 137 dB

You must make sure the following levels are never exceeded:

  • Daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB
  • Peak sound pressure of 140 dB

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