Employers Legal Responsibility Concerning Industrial Deafness

In recent years there have been major steps taken in the way that employers must protect their employees from excessive exposure to noise in the workplace, the largest being the introduction of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 stipulates certain requirements that an employer (and employee) should follow in order to reduce noise exposure in the workplace.

Requirements that employers must follow to be compliant include the responsibility to –

  • Assess the risks to employees from noise at work;
  • Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
  • Provide employees with hearing protection if noise reduction cannot be achieved through other methods;
  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
  • Provide employees with information, instruction and training;
  • Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.

The requirements do not apply to members of the public exposed to noise from non work activities or workers exposed to a low level of noise that does not pose a risk to hearing damage.

Noise Action Levels

As part of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, noise is calculated in dB (decibels) and measured by “action” levels. Action levels are the level of noise in dB that employers must ensure are not exceeded otherwise the noise generated could be detrimental to an employee’s hearing and action would need to be taken.

The action levels are the average noise when taken over a day or week and the maximum noise level an employee has been subjected to.

The action levels are:

Lower exposure action values:

Daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB;
Peak sound pressure of 135 dB;

Upper exposure action values:

Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB;
Peak sound pressure of 137 dB.

Exposure limit values which must not be exceeded:

Daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB;
Peak sound pressure of 140 dB.

To determine the levels of noise in the workplace a risk assessment must be undertaken by a person who is competent to carry out the task and has been given information by those that are competent to provide it. The assessment can be carried out by someone from within the company or by an external consultant.

Employer’s responsibilities under the law

According to the Heath and Safety Executive, the following are pre-requisites that an employer must follow under the law to protect their employees from potential hearing damage or industrial deafness.

  • Provide employees with hearing protectors if they ask for them and that noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values.
  • Provide employees with hearing protectors and make sure they use them properly when their noise exposure exceeds the upper exposure action values.
  • Identify hearing protection zones, i.e. areas where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, and mark them with signs if possible.
  • Provide employees with training and information on how to use and care for the hearing protectors.
  • Ensure that the hearing protectors are properly used and maintained.

Employers must also inform their employees of the following –

  • The likely noise exposure and the risk to hearing this noise creates.
  • What is being done to control risks and exposures.
  • Where and how people can obtain hearing protection.
  • How to report defects in hearing protection and noise control equipment.
  • What their duties are under the Noise Regulations 2005.
  • What they should do to minimise the risk, such as the proper way to use hearing protection and other noise control equipment, how to look after it and store it, and where to use it.
  • The health surveillance systems in place.

Health checks should also be provided to employees that are regularly exposed to the upper action levels of noise in the workplace and accurate records must be kept.