The regulations lower the action levels for noise exposure by 5 dB, requiring employers to make hearing protection available to workers when noise levels reach 80 dB and requiring employers to make it mandatory for workers to wear hearing protection at 85 dB. In the United States, employees can be exposed to noise levels of 90 dB and above before noise control measures and mandatory hearing protection must be used.
"With over 1 million employees in Great Britain exposed to levels of noise at work that could damage hearing, the new regulations will reduce exposure without placing unnecessary burdens on employers," Health and Safety Minister Lord Phillip Hunt said.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, which replace regulations that were promulgated in 1989, cover all industries in the United Kingdom except music and entertainment. The music and entertainment industries have until April 2008 to comply.
The new regulations require employers to:
- Assess the risks to their employees posed by noise at work.
- Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks.
- Provide their employees with hearing protection if they cannot reduce the noise exposure enough through other methods (making hearing protection available on request at 80 dB and ensuring it is worn at 85 dB).
- Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure (87 dB daily or weekly exposure or peak sound pressure of 140 dB, taking into account hearing protection) are not exceeded.
- Provide employees with information, instruction and training.
- Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.
Workplaces that were covered by the 1989 regulations should have measures in place already, and those workplaces likely only will need to review their risk assessments and prioritize their noise-control measures, according to the U.K. Health and Safety Executive.
Employees whose use of hearing protection under the 1989 regulations was advisory will now have to wear the protection supplied.
For more information about the regulations and simple steps that can be taken to reduce employee noise exposure, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise.