Wherever there is noise at work you 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. You should also keep up with what is good practice or the standard for noise-control connected to the associated industry (where the equipment is generally used), eg through a trade association, or machinery or equipment suppliers.
Where it is likely that exposure to noise is at or above the upper exposure action values, you must take action to reduce noise exposure with a planned programme of noise control.
Even where noise exposures are below upper exposure action values, you should take action to reduce the risks, eg reducing exposure further.
Any action you take should be ‘reasonably practicable’ – in proportion to the level of risk. If exposure is below lower action values, the risk is low and it is likely no action is required – but if there are simple, inexpensive practical steps that would reduce risks further, you should consider implementing them.
First think about how to remove the source of noise altogether – for example, housing a noisy machine where it cannot be heard by workers. If that is not possible, investigate:
- using quieter equipment or a different, quieter process - gather information from the supplier on noise levels for the equipment you are interested in before you place your order and make comparisons with other equipment on the market;
- engineering/technical controls to reduce, at source, the noise produced by a machine or process;
- using screens, barriers, enclosures and absorbent materials to reduce the noise on its path to the people exposed;
- designing and laying out the workplace to create quieter work areas;
- improved working techniques to reduce noise levels;
- limiting the time people spend in noisy areas.
Measures that give ongoing or medium- and long-term benefits expected as part of a noise-control programme expected of Departments are:
- ensuring noise is considered prior to purchase of machinery and equipment (low-noise policy);
- proper and regular maintenance of machinery and equipment that takes account of noise.
Guidance to support the management of noise in the workplace is also available for specific sectors. The Music and Entertainment sector has dedicated guidance in this area.
Hearing protection should be issued to persons:
- where extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using noise control;
- as a short-term measure while other methods of controlling noise are being developed.
You should not use hearing protection as an alternative to controlling noise by technical and organisational means. Where there remains a requirement to provide hearing protection, see the accompanying guidance: Providing Hearing Protection