Skip to content Skip to navigation menu

Noise at Work Regulations

Find out more about the standards and regulations around safe noise levels in your workplace

As noise levels can be a major factor in work-related injuries and long-term conditions, it's important to understand as an employer what you can do to reduce or remove the risk to employees.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 state that it is the employer's duty to remove or reduce risks to health and safety from noise, and hearing protection zones are designated areas of the workplace where access is restricted and where hearing protection is compulsory.

With that in mind, we have looked at the ways you can identify the sources and subsequently reduce noise in your workplace.

Risk Assessment

A noise risk assessment is required if any employee is likely to be exposed at or above the lower action value at work. Its aim is to help decide what actions are required to keep your employees healthy and safe.

You’ll know you need a risk assessment if:

  • The noise is intrusive for most of the working day
  • For at least part of the day you need to use a raised voice to have a conversation with someone two metres away
  • Noisy power tools or machinery are used for more than half an hour a day
  • You are working in noisy industries such as construction, road repair, engineering or manufacturing
  • There are noises from explosive sources, pneumatic impact tools, detonators or gun

An employer needs to make sure that risk from exposure to noise is either eliminated at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, reduced to as low a level as possible.

Controlling the Noise

Once the noise risk has been recognised, formal measures are required to reduce exposure to it. They should be implemented whenever an employee's exposure to noise is likely to exceed the upper exposure action values of 85 decibels for daily or weekly exposure, or a peak sound pressure of 137 decibels. But beware, hearing protection does not count as a control measure.

As a priority, establish whether the noise exposure can be prevented or reduced by:

  • Using quieter equipment or a different, quieter process
  • Bringing in 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
  • Redesigning the layout of the workplace to create quiet workstations
  • Limiting the time people spend in noisy areas
  • Introducing a purchasing policy for low noise machinery and equipment
  • Regularly maintaining the machinery and equipment that takes account of noise

When or while a risk remains, an employer must make hearing protection available upon request to any employee likely to be exposed above the lower action value and provide hearing protection to any employee likely to be exposed above the upper action value.

Remember, hearing protection should only be used as a last resort where there are risks to health and safety that cannot be controlled by other means.

Personal Hearing Protection

The rules around personal hearing protection are stringent. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 state that personal hearing protection should only be issued to employees when noise control measures cannot be achieved. They're very clear that employers should not use hearing protection as an alternative to controlling and managing noise.

When supplying personal hearing protection, it's an employer's duty to select the correct hearing protection and ensure it is suitable for the task and environment. They must also provide training on the use of the equipment and understand how to clean, maintain and when to replace their protection.

Arco employee choosing a boxed hearing protection product off a shelf

In April 2018, the PPE Directive was replaced by the new PPE Regulation. This has extended the regulation to the whole supply chain - from obtaining product approval and ensuring products conform to regulations to technical files and records.

The new regulation reclassified hearing protection to Category III - designed to protect people from risks that may cause very serious consequences such as death or irreversible damage to health.

This move means that hearing protection is now subject to a strict conformity assessment procedure, which requires EU-type examination plus ongoing surveillance, so it's never been more important to keep on top of compliance and standards when it comes to noise at work regulations.

It is the employer's duty to provide hearing protection to employees that request them, if their noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values.

Choosing Personal Hearing Protection

When selecting hearing protection, you need to consider:

  • Noise reduction (attenuation) offered by the protection
  • Frequency of the noise
  • Compatibility with other safety equipment e.g. hard hats, masks and eye protection
  • Pattern of the noise exposure
  • The need to communicate and hear warning sounds
Worker wearing orange personal protective equipment including hart hat with face shield, eyewear and ear defenders

Personal hearing protection must feature a permanent CE or UKCA marking to demonstrate that it fulfils the standards prescribed by the relevant legislation. They specify the constructional, design and performance requirements of personal hearing protection equipment, and include:

BS EN 352-1:2002 Ear-muffs
BS EN 352-1:2002 Ear-plugs
BS EN 352-3:2002 Ear-muffs attached to an industrial safety helmet
BS EN 352-4:2001 Level-dependent ear-muffs
BS EN 352-5:2002 Active noise reduction ear-muffs
BS EN 352-6:2002 Ear-muffs with electrical audio input
BS EN 352-7:2002 Level-dependent ear-plugs
BS EN 352-8:2008 Entertainment audio ear-muffs

More from Arco

View our comprehensive range of hearing protection products including earplugs, ear defenders and communication solutions.

All Expert Advice