Good and bad noise consultants

This is aimed at those of you who have something resembling a normal life so have decided to get someone in to do your noise assessments for you. There is a boiling cauldron of noise assessment providers out there so how do you sort through them to identify the decent ones from the useless? Well, never being short of an opinion or reticent about expressing it, here are some of my own 'red flag' issues which would send me running for the hills and looking to find another supplier if I was looking to order a noise assessment, or some key questions you should ask of a potential provider which can help you choose one of the good ones.

1. Claiming or insinuating some form of HSE approval.

 A rather suspect use of the HSE's logo. Not a company I would use.

A rather suspect use of the HSE's logo. Not a company I would use.

The HSE, or the Health and Safety Executive, are the Special Chosen Ones who enforce all things health and safety at work, (although if you are in say hospitality or retail, then it is not the HSE but your Local Authority Environmental Health chaps and chapesses, but treat them as the same for the purposes of this). I have come across websites of companies selling noise assessments which claim or imply HSE approval or some kind of HSE affiliation, for example by putting the HSE's logo prominently on their website. Just to be clear, the HSE do not 'approve' providers of noise assessments nor certify some form of affiliation. If a company is dodgy enough to imply any kind of formal link they're probably best not relied on for your work.

2. They mention a 'noise map'

If someone mentions providing you with a noise map of your workplace, then unless it is an extra thing which is in addition to the noise assessment say 'not on your nelly' and go elsewhere. Why? Put simply, the Noise Regs want to know what noise levels people experience and that can only be done by identifying groups of people on a job or function basis, not by a plan of the site with some numbers on it. A map can be useful as extra information but it is not a noise assessment. For example, a map takes no account of exposure durations, people working in multiple areas, etc. 

3. They tell you the law says the assessment expires at a set date

This is a classic sign they are more interested in selling you something you don't need rather than providing you with a decent value service. The law does not say noise assessments expire after a set time and have to be repeated every so often but time and again I see companies telling clients that their assessment 'expires' on a specific date and even writing that on the assessment itself. This is pretty much entirely just to get more of your money. There is a page going into this in more detail here - assessments do need to be reviewed (which a lot of the time you can do yourself in-house) but 'review' is not the same as 'repeated', 're-done'or 'expired' so do not allow noise assessment companies to try and oversell by treating the two as synonymous.

4. They mention they use a set noise assessment template

No, no and thrice no! While some form of templated report is useful for the introductory and background information, it is fairly safe to say no two workplaces are identical in terms of equipment, duration of use, the people who are present, construction materials, layout, etc. etc. and therefore no two noise assessments should be identical. If they are using some form of system where they add numbers to a database and it spits out a report automatically then frankly, and in my humble opinion, that's a very shabby form of noise assessment. Noise assessments take time, especially writing a proper report, and you can't short-cut it for the sake of expediency. You may save money in the short run by someone churning out a templated report and charging a lower rate for it but it will be very poor value and has a good chance of being found wanting further down the line. Do it properly first time and you'll get better value for your hard-earned pounds and have less chance of an insurer or the HSE turning round and telling you it's no good.

Remember - 'good value' is not synonymous for 'cheap' and you could pay a little bit more but get a much much better service for it and therefore it be much better value. 

When I do noise assessments, a report takes a good five hours or so to write up for each day on the site actually making measurements. I have come across companies where an assessor is expected to create three or four noise assessment reports in a day, mainly by just churning it out automatically via software rather than doing it properly. It is simply not possible to do a decent job when firing reports out that fast - no way can they analyse the individual jobs properly and make specific recommendations for noise reduction measures (a key part of a noise assessment) in such a short time and via a template. If you are paying someone to do it then you deserve it to be the best possible for your site, not what was most convenient for the noise consultant.

5. Omitting octave band measurements

You could get a noise meter, or hire some noise measuring kit, and meander your way though doing a noise assessment yourself, but one of the benefits in paying someone to do it, aside from it being a lot quicker, is that you get the noise assessment done to the best standard possible rather than muddling through it. As part of that I would always expect octave band measurements to form part of the assessment, and the results to be used in calculation of suitability of hearing protection. If a consultant won't do this and relies on the 'ok but less effective' SNR or HML methods, go elsewhere as to me that says they are not doing the best job possible.

6. Ask whether they are using hand-held or wearable noise meters

To be clear on this one, hand-held is better. It takes longer but the assessor retains control of the assessment. Some noise assessment consultancies use wearable noise meters way too much, and I have come across reports of assessors who turned up on the client's site, stuck a load of wearable noise meters on various people, then went off to the pub for lunch, came back, retrieved the meters, left again and submitted a report based on those. That is utterly hopeless - to do a noise assessment you need to actually assess - i.e. see the work being done, look for variances between people, and identify where the peaks are and decide what if anything can be done about it. There is detailed reasoning on the hand-held versus wearable meters here - both have their place and a good consultant should say they use both but hand-held is their primary tool. 

7. Ask about the consultant's competence

Qualification

Ask for proof of them having done the Institute of Acoustics Certificate of Competence in Workplace Noise Assessment, or IOSH's equivalent 'Noise At Work - Assessment and Management'. These are detailed courses which go into a lot of the technicalities of noise assessment. 

If they have the NEBOSH Diploma or some other equivalent general health and safety qualification with no supplementary noise assessment qualification then I would recommend you do not use them as that is simply not good enough.

Similarly, someone who has done a single or two day course on noise assessment may be OK for in-house tests but for a consultant you don't want the bare minimum, you want 'good' and these courses are again simply not good enough.

Noise assessment experience

While you are asking for qualifications, as competence to do a noise assessment is a function of both qualifications and also experience, ask about their experience of doing noise assessments. How long have they done them, for what kind of clients, etc.? You could even ask for a sample report - when I get asked I'm always happy to send an anonymised report to prospective clients as an example of what they could expect from me. 

8. Ask to see their risk assessment for noise surveying

A good consultant or company will have a detailed risk assessment for undertaking a noise assessment and this will give you a good idea of their general competency. Ask for this before confirming an order - many companies are understandably reticent about sending these as standard part of the tendering process as it may give away a bit too much of their in-house operating systems and will inevitably at some point land in a competitor's hands. But, once you've decided to choose one supplier then asking for this before confirming the order is perfectly reasonable and they should be able to send it to you. If they can't then it is a bit of a red flag that they aren't quite all they are pretending to be.