Noise at Work: Levels of Sound and Employee Protection
How is sound measured?
Sound is measured in units called decibels, which determine the pressure and intensity of a sound we hear. It's the technical way of recording the level of loudness we are exposed to.
To give you a better idea, here are some common examples of sounds and their decibel (dB) levels:
- Almost total silence = 0 dB
- A whisper = 15 dB
- A conversation = 60 dB
- A lawnmower = 90 dB
- A car horn = 110 dB
- A music concert or aircraft engine = 120 dB
- Fireworks or a gunshot = 140 dB
The human body can only handle so much when it comes to sound - to put this into perspective, it would take over 85 dB to damage the hairs inside the ear and bring about hearing loss, especially if you tolerate such noise exposure in work over a prolonged period of time without sufficient protection.
If you were to experience the decibel level of a gunshot (140 dB), for example, without hearing protectors you would suffer hearing damage straight away, causing all sorts of personal symptoms in addition to ruptured eardrums.
For those working in noisy environments, it is vital that you are protected with excellent quality hearing protectors and that your employer takes necessary actions to monitor sound levels and reduce any risks of ear damage.
The level that employers must provide hearing protection is at what decibels?
According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, there are three levels of noise exposure that require certain actions from the employer:
- 80 dB – if noise in your working environment reaches this level, then your employer must be carrying out risk assessments and making sure that any risks are reduced or eliminated. Staff must be provided with information and training on this. People working in rubbish disposal, places exposed to traffic, or those operating vehicles, such as tractors, are some examples of jobs involving exposure to levels of 80 dB or over.
- 85 dB – this is the level at which employers must provide hearing protection of a good quality to workers and designate Hearing Protection Zones in the workplace. Some jobs involving this level of noise include construction workers and electricians.
- 87 dB – This is the maximum limit and noise should not exceed this level, even if hearing protectors are worn.
People who use electric saws, drills or are exposed to aircrafts or gunshots or even those in the music industry who work near loud speakers are at risk of hearing loss above this level and without sufficient protection.
As well as being surrounded by common sounds in everyday life, making sure you are protected from high levels of sound in work must be an absolute priority.
How to check decibel levels
Your employer should be taking necessary actions to assess the noise levels at work, but if you are curious to know what levels you are working in, there are plenty of apps you could download to your smartphone to check decibel levels in your current environment. A few you could try for free are:
- Decibel Sound Meter Pro
- Makita Mobile Tools
- Decibel X
- Toolbox – Smart Meter Tools
There are also some that you can pay for if you would prefer an app with more features, such as the Decibel X PRO and many others. It's worth looking into this so that you can be aware of your own situation, rather than relying on others who could potentially be lax in their duties.
If you do use one of these apps and realise that you are exposed to high levels of noise without good protection, talk to your employer immediately!
What should I do if the noise levels at work are affecting me?
Although the responsibility is placed on the employer of the company, who has a legal ‘duty of care’ to you, workers also need to communicate if they are feeling at risk or suffering with any hearing impairments, and they must also assist their employer by always wearing and looking after the protectors provided and strictly following any rules or procedures that have been put in place.
It is also the employer’s duty to ensure you are seen by a doctor if you experience any hearing damage or impairment on the job; so co-operating with your employer immediately is a must if you are at all suffering with any work-related health issues.
If you are exposed to noise in work on a daily or weekly basis, you should also make sure you’re getting hearing checks; just as you would get a regular eye or dental check, try to get your ears tested at least once or twice a year. Many often disregard the importance of this and any problems with hearing often go undetected.
Maybe you were previously in a role that involved lots of noise and are only now starting to notice the onset of hearing impairment years later - hearing loss can take immediate effect or can develop over a longer period of time. It's still possible that you weren’t properly looked after in work.
How can Accident Line Direct help?
If you think you have suffered a hearing condition due to a lack of care from your employer or insufficient protection, then get in touch with us at Accident Line Direct to discuss your situation and find out more information about potentially making a claim.