Basic health gubbins and noise

The risks from noise are pretty much entirely focused around the health of individuals so naturally the health side of things features heavily in the regulations and what they are trying to achieve. 

An ear. In case you hadn't guessed.

The two issues involved in the whole noise exposure malarkey are hearing losses (referred to as noise induced hearing loss, NIHL) and tinnitus. Back in the good old days of the three day working week and men standing around fires in old oil drums on strike outside a factory, NIHL was what was called Industrial Deafness. Tinnitus meanwhile is the sensation of noise in your ears which isn't really there. Both are covered in more detail in the page on the effects of noise on hearing.

In practice, when the noise regulations say that an employer needs to have a programme of health surveillance in place for employees, what they are talking about is audiometry, or hearing tests as normal people call them. That's the 'hear noise press button' thing that people probably had at school, minus the free lollipop. You can do these yourself or get someone in to do it. Unless you have the full set up in-house, it's easier to just get someone in and to help you, here is a page on how to choose an audiometry provider.

Who to include in an audiometry programme

The requirement is that if you have anyone who is routinely exposed to noise levels averaging over 85dB(A) then the employer needs to implement a programme of health surveillance. That word 'routinely' is important as it means not everyone who is exposed to high noise has to be put through an audiometry programme.

This being health and safety there is no actual definition of 'routinely' but you can apply some common sense here. For example:

  • A receptionist occasionally enters a production area to find someone and isn't there long or often. They wouldn't have to be included.
  • A sales rep occasionally takes a customer into the production area but not all that often. Is there for maybe a couple of hours. That wouldn't need to be included.
  • A sales rep takes customers into the production area say twice a week every week for a couple of hours each time. That's more borderline and can depend on the actual noise levels - for example if it is only say 86 or 87dB(A) in there then their exposure is very low and you could omit them, whereas if it is 96 or 97dB(A) in there then they can get a good noise dose in a short time so include them.

Long term arrangements

Audiometry is an ongoing programme rather than a one-shot jobby so is something which will need to be set up and maintained as long as you have high noise areas in your work. The links over there to the left will give you a shed-load of information on audiometry, how to set it up, how often to do it, the murky world of medical confidentiality which it takes you into, and so on. Have fun.