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Noise Risk Assessment
Loud noises in the workplace can damage employees’ hearing and pose severe safety risks. It is therefore essential that both duty holders and workers understand common workplace noise hazards. Workers must also fully understand the benefits of wearing hearing protection equipment because a lack of it can potentially lead to noise-induced hearing loss. 


In this article, we’ll cover what dangers are posed by noise in the workplace, what employers’ legal duties are, how to identify noise hazards, and what a noise risk assessment looks like.

 
Dangers of excessive workplace noise 
Excessive noise can interfere with crucial workplace communications, from making it difficult to simply talk to a colleague to masking warnings or instructions. Loud noise can also reduce people’s spatial awareness, which can lead to workplace accidents and injuries. 
 
 
More importantly, dangerous levels of noise in the workplace can cause permanent hearing damage. This can occur gradually due to prolonged exposure, or acutely when someone is exposed to deafening noises.
 
 
Hearing loss is disabling and can inhibit speech comprehension and can also cause extreme psychological distress. Tinnitus, for instance, causes ringing and buzzing in the ears, which can lead to impaired sleep and symptoms of vertigo. 
 
 
It is, therefore, vital to carry out a comprehensive noise risk assessment to mitigate the health risks posed by noise. 
 
 
How to determine whether noise is a safety concern 
If the following points apply in your workplace, you should carry out a noise risk assessment and take the necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of harm caused by noise: 
 
 
• There are intrusive noises (e.g. noisy main road; crowded restaurant) that last most of the working day 
• If workers have to raise their voices to conduct a normal conversation 
• If workers use loud tools or machinery 
• If noisy tasks are characteristic of the work sector (e.g. construction, engineering etc.) 
• Workplace environments in which warning signals alert to danger
• Work is conducted around traffic or loud machinery 
 
 
Carrying out a noise risk assessment 
If any of the above statements apply, you will need to carry out a thorough noise risk assessment. 
 
 
The workplace noise risk assessment process should include the following steps:
1. Identify all potential noise risks and note who is likely to be affected. 
2. Split these risk factors into two sections: Safety risks & Health risks.
3. Review your legal obligations (The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005) and determine what measures you should implement (i.e. PPE, noise protection measures, review of working practices).
4. Identify staff who may need monitoring or further training. 
5. Log all findings and note the changes you make/intend to make.
6. Review the risk assessment at appropriate intervals, and when circumstances change.
 
 
How can noise be controlled? 
After conducting the risk assessment, you should implement necessary noise-reduction methods. Remember, each noise hazard can be managed in a number of ways. Take the following example: a noisy machine. 
 
 
The first option would be to house it in a different location, but this might not always be possible. Instead, you could consider the following alternatives: 
 
 
• Using quieter machinery or a quieter process
• Implementing technical controls that reduce noise at the source
• Installing soundproof barriers
• Restructuring the workplace layout to create quiet workstations
• Limiting time staff spend in noisy areas
 
 
There are almost always several different methods of countering the risks presented by noise hazards in the workplace, and care should be taken to choose the one that best suits the hazard itself.
 
 
Personal hearing protection 
Personal hearing protection is a form of PPE required when noise control measures have been unsuccessful. It should be used as a short-term measure, while improved noise control processes are being developed. 
 
 
You must assign the correct protection to a specific task. At low levels of noise, for instance, disposable earplugs will suffice.  In contrast, high noise levels should be mitigated with ear defenders. 
 
 
Personal hearing protection should be worn when noise exposure levels exceed safety limits, or if an employee requests them.  
 
 
Supervision and training on the correct use of personal hearing protection must be provided, and duty holders must ensure it is both safe and effective to use. Employers must also implement a system that encourages staff to report defects and replace any faulty equipment. 

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