Occupational deafness

Posted: 1st November 2011

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 introduced tighter controls on exposure to noise levels in the workplace, to protect workers from damage to their hearing. The noise level at which workers are required to have hearing protection available is 80dB(A) and the level at which they are required to wear hearing protection is 85dB(A). Hearing protection must ensure that average exposure levels never exceed 87dB(A).

It is estimated that excessive noise in the workplace has caused half a million people living in Great Britain to suffer deafness or other hearing difficulties. The threat of noise-induced hearing loss is often not taken seriously and the effects are not immediately obvious. If protective measures are taken, it is totally preventable.
Employers are advised to lower or eliminate employees’ exposure to noise in the following ways:
  • replace old machinery with newer, quieter equipment;
  • when purchasing new equipment, make sure you obtain information on noise levels before you buy;
  • investigate with the supplier ways of ensuring that equipment makes as little noise as possible;
  • reduce noise from equipment by changing how it is mounted or installing silencers or enclosures;
  • maintain equipment regularly;
  • keep noisy machinery in a separate area;
  • make sure employees spend as little time as is necessary in a noisy environment or create a noise-reduced enclosure for employees; and
  • reduce reverberations by the use of sound absorbing materials.
Whilst excessive workplace noise is often associated with industrial machinery, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations also apply to the music and entertainment sectors, which are defined in the Regulations as all workplaces where:
  • live music is played; or
  • recorded music is played in a restaurant, bar, public house, discotheque or nightclub, or alongside live music or a live dramatic or dance performance.
Employers in these sectors are required to assess and manage the risks to employees and freelancers from damage due to exposure to noise and to put effective controls and protective measures in place to ensure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded. For more information, see http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/musicsound.htm.
Noise induced hearing loss is irreversible and it has been described as a sleeping epidemic. Employers who fail to assess and explain the risks to employees, who fail to take appropriate steps to reduce workplace noise levels and who do not provide the proper ear protection face a significant litigation risk.