Noise and vibration
This is an excerpt from the TUC book "Hazards at Work: Organising for safe and healthy workplaces", the best-selling guide to health and safety at work. To buy a copy order here(if you are a safety representative on a TUC training course please speak to your tutor about getting a discounted copy)
BASIC FACTS ABOUT NOISE AND VIBRATION
Noise is probably the most widespread and underestimated of workplace hazards. There is a hundred years of knowledge that workplace noise can cause permanent deafness, temporary hearing loss and associated conditions such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The HSE estimates that over 1 million employees in Great Britain are exposed to levels of noise which put their hearing at risk.
According to the 2008 TUC safety representatives survey, 14 per cent of safety representatives think that noise is one of the main hazards facing workers. In manufacturing, noise is the main hazard of concern with 45 per cent of safety representatives identifying it.
Traditionally, the worst noise levels have been in transport, metal processing and catering, with significant levels of noise in construction, textile processing, forestry and repetitive assembly. However, the TUC and affiliated unions have been drawing attention to the noise hazards faced by call centre workers from acoustic shock (see Chapter 35 for more details), and pub and club workers from deafening music.
Noise at work can cause other problems, such as disturbance and interference with communications, as well as stress, involving difficulties with concentration, fatigue, tension and irritability. For example, noise in offices may often be well below current legal levels. However, there are common sources of noise that cause problems for office workers such as computers, printers, open-plan offices, telephones, photocopiers, ventilation and heating systems.
Frequency (or ‘pitch’) and intensity (‘loudness’) are important factors in understanding noise hazards. Frequency is the pitch of the sound. It describes the rate of fluctuation of air particles produced by a noise source. The measurement unit is cycles per second, which are called hertz (Hz). Intensity of sound provides a measure of the amount of energy that vibrating air particles deliver to the ears. The amount of sound energy can vary enormously. Painful sound is about 10 millionmillion times as intense as the quietest sound that can be heard. Since a scale of this magnitude would be impossible to handle, a logarithmic scale is used for measuring sound intensity, in units called decibels (dB). When noise is measured at work, emphasis is normally given to the frequencies that have most effect on the human ear. This is done by adjusting the noise meter to take more notice of these frequencies. The scale used is called a ‘weighted decibel scale’ or dB(A). According to the HSE, some examples of typical noise levels are:
Since the scale is logarithmic, a small increase in the decibel scale corresponds to a large increase in intensity. This is very important in understanding the significance of noise measurements. For example:
In most jobs, the risk depends not just on the noise levels but on how long people are exposed to them. The total amount of noise exposure over the whole working day is called the daily personal noise exposure (usually shortened to LEP,d). If noise levels need to be measured, a competent person should measure them. There is a risk of hearing damage from exposures above 80 dB(A). As a rule of thumb, if you cannot hear a normal conversation clearly when you are 2 metres away from the speaker, the noise level is likely to be around 85 dB(A) or higher. If you cannot hear someone clearly when you are about 1 metre away, the level is likely to be around 90 dB(A) or higher.
Anyone who is regularly and frequently exposed to high levels of vibration can suffer permanent injury. Vibration hazards at work usually present themselves in two forms:
LEGAL AND OTHER STANDARDS FOR PREVENTION AND CONTROL
A considerable number of laws and regulations of general application apply to noise and vibration. Duties can be found in the following chapters of Hazards at Work:
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 came into force on 6
July 2005, although there are certain transitional arrangements regarding
compliance with exposure limit values.
The Regulations are available in full on the Office of Public Sector Information website
The Regulations apply to both hand-arm vibration (HAV) and whole-body vibration (WBV). They make provision for the following:
Exposure limit values and action values (Regulation 4)
For HAV, the exposure values are:
Daily exposure should be ascertained on the basis set out in Schedule 1 (Part 1) to the Regulations
For WBV the exposure values are:
Daily exposure should be ascertained on the basis set out in Schedule 2 (Part 1) to the Regulations
Assessment of the risk (Regulation 5)
An employer who carries out work which is liable to expose any of their employees to risk from vibration shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health and safety of those employees and the risk assessment shall identify the measures that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations.
Elimination or control of exposure to vibration at the workplace (Regulation 6)
Regulation 6 provides for the following:
Health surveillance (Regulation 7)
If the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk to the health of employees who are, or are liable to be, exposed to vibration; or employees are likely to be exposed to vibration at or above an exposure action value, the employer shall ensure that such employees are placed under suitable health surveillance
Information, instruction and training (Regulation 8)
If the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk to the health of employees who are, or who are liable to be, exposed to vibration; or employees are likely to be exposed to vibration at or above an exposure action value, the employer shall provide those employees and their representatives with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force on 6 April 2006. (In the music and entertainment sectors the Noise at Work Regulations 1989 continue to apply until the 2005 Regulations come into force on 6 April 2008). The Regulations are available in full on the Office of Public Sector Information website at www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051643.htm. The main provisions of the Regulations are outlined below.
Exposure limit values and action values (Regulation 4)
Assessment of risk created by noise exposure at the workplace (Regulation 5)
An employer who carries out work which is liable to expose any employees to noise at or above a lower exposure action value (see above – 80dBA) shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk from that noise to the health and safety of those employees, and the risk assessment shall identify the measures which need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations.
The risk assessment shall be reviewed regularly and straight away if:
The employees concerned or their representatives shall be consulted on the assessment of risk under the provisions of this regulation.
The employer shall record:
Elimination or control of exposure to noise at the workplace (Regulation 6)
The employer shall 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 any employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above an upper exposure action value (see above – 85dBA), the employer shall 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.
Actions taken shall be based on the general principles of prevention set out in Schedule 1 to the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 and shall include consideration of:
The employer shall (a) ensure that his employees are not exposed to noise above an exposure limit value; or (b) if an exposure limit value is exceeded forthwith –
The employees concerned or their representatives shall be consulted on the measures to be taken to meet the requirements of this regulation.
Hearing Protection (Regulation 7)
An employer who carries out work which is likely to expose any employees to noise at or above a lower exposure action value (see above – 80dBA), shall make personal hearing protectors available upon request to any employee who is so exposed.
If an employer is unable by other means to reduce the levels of noise to which an employee is likely to be exposed to below an upper exposure action value (see above – 85dBA), s/he shall provide personal hearing protectors to any employee who is so exposed.
If in any area of the workplace under the control of the employer an employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above an upper exposure action value for any reason the employer shall ensure that:
Any personal hearing protectors made available or provided under the requirements above shall be selected by the employer:
Maintenance and use of equipment (Regulation 8)
The employer shall:
Every employee shall:
Health Surveillance (Regulation 9)
If the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk to the health of her/his employees who are, or are liable to be, exposed to noise, the employer shall ensure that such employees are placed under suitable health surveillance, which shall include testing of their hearing.
The employer shall:
Where, as a result of health surveillance, an employee is found to have identifiable hearing damage the employer shall ensure that the employee is examined by a doctor and, if the doctor or any specialist to whom the doctor considers it necessary to refer the employee considers that the damage is likely to be the result of exposure to noise, the employer shall:
Information, instruction and training (Regulation 10)
Where her/his employees are exposed to noise which is likely to be at or above a lower exposure action value, the employer shall provide those employees and their representatives with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.
The information, instruction and training shall include:
NOISE AT WORK IN MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT – SOUND
In April 2008 the regulations protecting workers in the music and entertainment sectors from exposure to excessive noise were replaced by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. For other industries, these regulations have been in force since April 2006. The European Directive (2003/10/EC) on which the regulations are based allowed the music and entertainment sectors a two-year transitional period. This recognised that music is unusual as it is noise deliberately created for enjoyment and therefore practical guidelines were necessary to help workers, employers and freelancers in the music and entertainment sectors protect their hearing. Sound Advice is the resulting set of practical guidelines.
The advice was put together by a working party that included representatives of the music and entertainment industries, TUC-affiliate trade unions Equity and the Musicians Union, the General Federation of Trade Unions, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority Environmental Health Officers. It contains practical guidelines on the control of noise at work in music and entertainment, including concert halls and theatres, amplified live music venues, pubs/clubs and studios.
The aim of Sound Advice is to help control or reduce exposure to noise at work without stopping people from enjoying music, and offers advice to employers, freelancers and employees. It provides advice targeted at specific sectors of the industry with recommendations appropriate to each one. There is also a book version of the guidance, Sound advice: Control of noise at work in music and entertainment, HSG260 ISBN 978 0 7176 6307 1, available from HSE Books.
Sound Advice takes account of the duration of workers’ exposure to noise, and not simply the noise level. It sets out a range of simple and cost effective actions that can reduce workers' average daily or weekly exposure to noise. Regular, long-term exposure to noise can lead to permanent, incurable hearing damage.
Sound Advice does not provide guidance on the law, which can be found in Controlling noise at work: The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 L108 available from HSE Books. Useful general guidance on noise and HSE free leaflets are available from the HSE website.
Sound Advice is at www.soundadvice.info
WHAT CAN SAFETY REPRESENTATIVES DO?
There are a number of positive steps that safety representatives can take to raise awareness and tackle problems to do with noise and vibration.
Employer action on new laws
Safety representatives need to ensure that their employer has implemented the new Vibration and Noise Regulations and consulted safety representatives in the process. Steps should have been taken to implement the improved standards in the Regulations. Prevention and control measures should follow best practice:
Finally, the use of personal protection should be a last resort. For example, the use of ear protection is a last resort to control noise exposure. It should only be considered where noise cannot be eliminated at source or reduced to a minimum.
Safety representatives can identify if there is a problem with noise and vibration by:
Safety representatives should report their concerns and those of their members to management in writing. Use Chapter 7 above for ideas on how you can make sure that management gets things done.
Safety representatives should ask for copies of the risk assessments that the employer has done to ensure that they are preventing and controlling hazards from noise and vibration, and make sure that their employer is fully consulting them. Risk assessments must take account of the provisions of the new Regulations on noise and vibration. Where control measures are in place then safety representatives should check that they are being adhered to and maintained and also that they are effective in preventing injuries and ill health.
Safety representatives can also monitor the employer’s safety policy and systems of work regarding noise and vibration, and check that:
FURTHER INFORMATION (in alphabetical order)
Disability Rights Commission
Hazards magazine factsheets (see Section 6.2 for contact details)
£1.50 each for union subscribers. £6 for nonsubscribers
Hazards magazine website
Excellent news and resources on the Hazards web resource page
HSE noise website
HSE priced and free publications on noise
HSE priced and free publications on vibration
HSE vibration website
Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID)
RNID is a charity representing deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. News and resources
TUC (see Section 6.1 for contact details)
Trade union information
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/noiseandvibration.cfm
printed 22 May 2013 at 12:25 hrs by 220.127.116.11