Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force on 6 April 2006. The new regulations implement the European Union's Physical Agents (Noise) Directive within Great Britain. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 are the equivalent regulations in Northern Ireland.

The new regulations bring significant changes to the actions which were required by employers and employees under the previous Noise at Work Regulations 1989.  Employers now have extra responsibilities, and noise exposures and level limits are lower. The Regulations cover not only the obviously noisy industrial premises and construction sites, but virtually all workplaces with few exceptions, including workplaces where the risk of the noise may not be immediately obvious. So they apply for example, to motorcycle couriers, and to call centre workers who are exposed to noise (including speech) through headphones.  The regulations also cover the self-employed, as employers and employees. An outline of the regulations is given below.  The previous Noise at Work Regulations 1989 continue to apply to the entertainment industry for a transition period.

Action Values and Limit Values

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 specify action values and exposure limit values for daily personal noise exposure (or weekly personal noise exposure) and peak sound level. 

Daily personal noise exposure (LEP,d) is a measure of the total noise received by an employee over the working day.  Daily personal noise exposures depend both on noise levels experienced at work and on the time spent in the noise. A high level noise for a short time will give the same noise exposure as a lower level noise for a longer time, if the total sound energies of the two noises are the same.    For an eight-hour working day, the average noise level over the eight hours is numerically equal to the daily personal noise exposure.  For example, an employee working for 8 hours in a noise level of 75 dB(A) will have a noise exposure of 75 dB(A) LEP,d.  However, if the time spent is less than 8 hours the noise exposure will be less than 75 dB(A) LEP,d, and if the time is longer than eight hours the noise exposure will be more than 75 dB(A) LEP,d.  (International standards use the symbol LEX,8h in place of LEP,d.)

Weekly personal noise exposure (LEP,w) is a measure of the total noise received by an employee during a working week.  It is similar to the daily noise exposure but is calculated for a 40-hour week (five 8-hour days) instead of an 8-hour day. (International standards use the symbol LEX,8h in place of LEP,w)

Peak sound pressure level (LCpeak) is the instantaneous C-weighted peak sound pressure level occurring at any time during the working day.

The lower exposure action values are

The upper exposure action values are

The exposure limit values are

The exposure action values are ambient noise levels in the workplace at the worker's location and do not take into account the effect of any hearing protection.  The exposure limit values however, do take the effect of hearing protection into account.

Actions required

General - assessment of risk

Employers must ensure that risk from the exposure of his employees to noise is either eliminated at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.  

If one of the lower exposure action values is likely to be exceeded, an employer needs to carry out a risk assessment to assess whether any employees are likely to be exposed to noise at or above a lower exposure action value, an upper exposure action value, or an exposure limit value

The risk assessment should consider (a) the level, type and duration of exposure, including any exposure to peak sound pressure; (b) the effects of exposure to noise on employees whose health is at particular risk from such exposure; (c) any effects on the health and safety resulting from the interaction between noise and the use of ototoxic substances at work, or between noise and vibration; (d) any effects of noise on audible warning signals or other sounds that need to be audible for safety, or in order to reduce risk at work; (e) any information provided by the manufacturers of work equipment; (f) the availability of alternative equipment designed to reduce the emission of noise; (g) any extension of exposure to noise at the workplace beyond normal working hours, including exposure in rest facilities; (h) appropriate information obtained following health surveillance, including, where possible, published information; and (i) the availability of personal hearing protectors with adequate attenuation characteristics.

At and above a lower exposure action value

Where noise exposures exceed the lower exposure action value the employer must make suitable hearing protection available to any employee who wants to use it, though employees do not have to wear it.  The employer must also provide information and training on (a) the nature of risks from exposure to noise; (b) the organisational and technical measures taken in order to reduce noise exposures; (c) the exposure limit values and upper and lower exposure action values; (d) the significant findings of the risk assessment; (e) the availability and provision of personal hearing protectors and their correct use; (f) why and how to detect and report signs of hearing damage; (g) the entitlement to health surveillance and its purposes; (h) safe working practices to minimise exposure to noise; and (i) the collective results of any health surveillance undertaken.

At or above an upper exposure action value

If any employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above an upper exposure action value, the employer must reduce exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable by establishing and implementing a programme of organisational and technical measures, excluding the provision of personal hearing protectors, which is appropriate to the activity.  (a) other working methods which reduce exposure to noise; (b) choice of appropriate work equipment emitting the least possible noise, taking account of the work to be done; (c) the design and layout of workplaces, work stations and rest facilities; (d) suitable and sufficient information and training for employees, such that work equipment may be used correctly, in order to minimise their exposure to noise; (e) reduction of noise by technical means; (f) appropriate maintenance programmes for work equipment, the workplace and workplace systems; (g) limitation of the duration and intensity of exposure to noise; and (h) appropriate work schedules with adequate rest periods.

The provision of hearing protectors is a last resort, to be used where the preferred methods of reducing noise exposures are not reasonably practicable. Hearing protection zones must be marked and employees must wear the protection provided when in the zones.

It is likely that the recommendations will be interpreted so that health surveillance including audiometric testing should be provided for employees if daily exposures regularly exceed the upper action values.  The health surveillance is likely to be required even if hearing protection is worn, to provide a check on the effectiveness of the protection.

At or above an exposure limit value

The exposure limit values must never be exceeded.  If a limit value is exceeded the employer must identify the reason and take steps to ensure that it cannot happen again.

Changes from earlier regulations

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 differ from the earlier Noise at Work Regulations 1989 in force in many ways.  For example:

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 provide more detail than given above, and the HSE has published detailed guidance on the regulations. 

Services offered

ISVR Consulting undertakes occupational noise assessments for compliance with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.  In addition to surveys of noise in factories, industrial and business premises indoors and out, we are able to undertake more specialist surveys, for example, measuring noise exposures under headsets in call centres and control rooms, noise exposures of aircrew from headsets, and noise exposures under motorcycle, flying or shot-blasting helmets.  We also measure noise exposures and peak levels from firearms, pyrotechnics and explosions.  Although much of our work is to ensure compliance with regulations to help an employer prevent hearing damage, we can also act as expert witnesses in claims for noise-induced hearing loss, and assess whether a claimant's past noise exposure is likely to have exceeded regulatory limits in force at the time, or whether the degree of hearing loss is consistent with a claimant's noise exposure.