Sound Level Meters
What happens if you don't monitor?
The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 already say employers must reduce the risk of hearing damage to the lowest level reasonably practicable and maintain all equipment. The Regulations set two action levels, at 85 and 90 dBA.
However the current regulations are flawed - the 85dBA Action Level places weak obligations on employers, despite evidence that 85 dBA causes permanent damage. They also omit the Directive´s requirement for a programme of technical and work organisation measures to reduce exposure, and fail to specify a sound exposure limit.
But this is all changing in April 2006. A European Directive has been adopted which involves introducing new UK noise regulations that tighten the legal requirements in relation to noise by lowering the exposure action values by a massive 75% to 80 and 85 dB(A). Protective equipment is stated to be a last resort, and substitution and control measures must be prioritized.
From 2006 the sound level exposure limit will be 87dBA. This will be the maximum permissible exposure measured inside any protective equipment.
Since April 1999 there has been only one successful prosecution under current regulations, a Lancashire farmer who was fined £240. Since then there have been no convictions solely on account of noise offences - this is likely to change overnight with the new, stricter regulations.
What you need to do
Noise in the Workplace remains a major Health & Safety issue, particularly with the introduction of the new Noise at Work Regulations. Employers must be active in assessing the risk of hearing damage to their staff through sound level assessments and accurate measurements.
The introduction of the Noise at Work Regulations in February 2005 has put the focus onto employers to ensure that their noise measurement equipment and risk assessments are up to date.
Safety Officers need the right instrument for making noise surveys, and assessing the risk of noise exposure in the workplace. The regulations will impact many areas of industry, with the number of people exposed to sound above actionable levels dramatically increasing.
It is highly advisable to combine a modern sound level meter for general purpose noise measurements with dosemeters for personal noise exposure assessments of employees.
More companies are having to look closely at their noise assessments for individuals, and the doseBadge provides a quick and simple method to gather the information needed.
With the right choice of equipment and training, Safety professionals and companies can ensure they are equipped to deal with both the current and new legislation in a cost-effective manner.
Directive 2003/10/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise) was adopted on 9 December 2002 and came into force on 15 February 2003.
The Directive aims to protect workers from risks to their health and safety arising or likely to arise from exposure to noise and in particular the risk to hearing. The objective of the Directive is to ensure the health and safety of individual workers and to provide a minimum level of protection to workers across the European Union in order to avoid possible distortions of competition.
The Directive consolidates and repeals the existing EC Noise Directive 86/188/EEC, implemented in the UK by the Noise at Work Regulations 1989 (NAWR), and introduces new and more stringent requirements. The main provisions of the Directive are:
- assessment of noise levels where workers are likely to be exposed to risks
- elimination of risks at source or reduction to a minimum
- appropriate health surveillance where the risk assessment indicates a risk to health
- weekly averaging of exposure in duly justified circumstances
- a limit on personal noise exposure, taking account of any hearing protection worn, of 87 dB(A) and 200 pascals.
- the following actions to be taken where personal noise exposure, not taking account of hearing protection, exceeds 85 dB(A) and 140 pascals: - establishment and implementation of a programme of technical and/or organisational measures intended to reduce exposure to noise - marking, delimiting and restriction of access to areas - mandatory use of hearing protectors - a right to hearing checks by a doctor
- the following actions to be taken where personal noise exposure, not taking account of hearing protection, exceeds 80 dB(A) and 112 pascals. - availability of hearing protectors - provision of information and training - availability of audiometric testing where there is a risk to health
- derogation power when using hearing protection causes risks to health and safety
- transitional period of two years for the music and entertainment sector
- transitional period of five years for application to sea transport.
A wide range of industries and occupations will be affected, in particular construction, engineering, manufacturing, woodworking, paper and printing, shipbuilding, textiles, quarries, foundries, food production, and music and entertainment.
The link between exposure to noise and hearing damage is well known and internationally accepted. Regular exposure to loud noise can lead to permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus. There is good evidence of some hazard to hearing from prolonged exposure to noise at levels down to 85 dB(A) and a residual risk down to 82 dB(A) but the magnitude of the hazard diminishes rapidly below 90 dB(A). The Directive sets more stringent action values (80 dB(A) and 85 dB(A)) than the action levels in the current legislation (85 dB(A) and 90 dB(A)) and introduces an exposure limit value (87 dB(A)) above which exposure, taking account of any hearing protection used, is prohibited.
There is generally a long latency before the effects of damage may be noticed. For example, continuous occupational exposure to noise at 90 dB(A) would result in less than 5% of the population sustaining a 30 dB hearing loss (considered moderate disability) within 10 years, but this rises to nearly 50% over a working lifetime of exposure, though much of this hearing loss would be the result of the normal ageing process.
Recent research estimates that over 1.1 million people are exposed to noise levels above the proposed upper action value, with an estimated 170,000 people who suffer deafness, tinnitus or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise at work. The Association of British Insurers figures show that deafness makes up approximately 80% of occupational disease claims up to 1997 but the number of cases dealt with in recent years show a definite falling trend. This may be the result of a decline in heavy industry generally. Options
In Britain, the Government has issued guidance on noise at work since 1963, long before the existing Regulations came into force in 1989. Awareness of and compliance with these Regulations formed part of the recent HSE risk management campaign "Good Health is Good Business", and HSE continues to draw attention to the risks from noise exposure and enforce the Regulations. Noise is also specifically mentioned in the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992, and the reduction of noise at source through compliance with these Regulations is an important weapon in reducing risks to health. HSE´s long term commitment is to negotiate acceptable European Standards and to ensure that noise is addressed.
The Government therefore welcomes the Directive. Compliance with its provisions should ensure that, over time, occupational noise-induced hearing loss and 3 associated conditions become diseases of the past. The Government is, however, aware that the benefits will not come without costs to industry, and has negotiated hard to ensure that the costs of the Directive are not excessive without detracting from the health benefits.
There will be large, long-term health and safety benefits from the introduction of new requirements designed to reduce noise exposure further and provide for greater health surveillance. Moreover, there are many established and effective techniques for reducing noise at source, and employers can limit exposure by controlling the time spent by individuals in noisy working conditions. If neither of these solutions is possible, a variety of hearing protection devices are available, many of them inexpensive.
An estimate of the number of people exposed to various levels of noise has been made based on an adjustment of the figures produced by HSE in 1995, which were drawn from an earlier HSE survey. It takes account of subsequent changes in employment patterns. For the majority of the sectors affected there has been a decrease in the level of employment since 1995. A weighted average of -15% was used. The figures take into account the Directive provision that exposures can be:
- Occupational Hearing loss from Low-level Noise. Institute of Sound and Vibration Research. HSE Contract Research Report No. 68/1994
- The Costs and Benefits of the Noise at Work Regulations 1989. Institute for Employment Studies. HSE Contract Research Report No. 116/1996
- In arriving at ten year cost figures, earnings are assumed to rise by 1.8% per year in real terms - the observed increase for the whole economy over the past twenty-five years or so. Costs and benefits are discounted to present value using the Treasury recommended 3.5% discount rate. However, health benefits are also assumed to increase in value by 2% per year in line with the average annual increase in real GDP per capita.
- The weight was derived by taking an average of the percentage change in employement level for each of the broad sectors affected by the regulations from 1995 to 2000. averaged over a week - many workers subject to occasional single-day noise exposure can therefore be omitted.
Note that dB(A) is the noise level averaged over a working day or week as appropriate and that the estimates do not take account of the effect of wearing hearing protection. Actual exposures may be less.
The Directive also introduces a peak acoustic pressure limit value of 200 Pa. This is likely to affect firms that also exceed the 8-hour or weekly criteria and so the impact of the proposed peak value should be minimal. We assume that most firms exceeding the peak value will be included in the group exceeding the 8-hour or weekly criteria and so we do not expect the peak value to result in an increase in the numbers of exposed individuals.
The NAWRegs specify measures to be taken when noise exposures reach the first or second action levels of 85 or 90 dB(A), or a peak action level of 200 Pa. Some health surveillance for noise exposed workers is also required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Midas Safety Services are happy to discuss your Sound and Noise Level Testing requirements and arrange a no-obligation meeting if that would be helpful.
Please contact us on 01454-632967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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