Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 explained

Employers must protect their employees from excessive exposure to noise in the workplace. This includes keeping noise levels within the specified legal limits.

Exposure to excessive noise in the workplace may lead to long term hearing impairments known as industrial deafness. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the Regulations) stipulate certain requirements that an employer should follow in order to minimise the impact of noise in the workplace.

What do the Regulations say?

The Regulations impose various requirements on an employer, including the responsibility to:

  • Assess the risks to employees from exposure to noise at work
  • Take action to minimise the noise exposure that produces those risks, for example by using quieter machinery, installing sound barriers or shortening working periods
  • Provide employees with hearing protection if noise reduction cannot be achieved through other methods
  • Keep noise exposure within the specified legal limits
  • Train staff on the appropriate safety measures.

Employers are also required to carry out regular health surveillance where employees are regularly exposed to high levels of noise, such as monitoring a worker's hearing ability.

What are the maximum legal exposure limits?

The Regulations measure noise in decibels (dB) and in "action values". An action value is the level of noise that may be generated before it could become detrimental to an employee's hearing, averaged over a working day or week. Action values are also calculated with reference to peak sound pressure. This is the maximum noise that workers are exposed to in a working day. 

Once the action level is reached, the employer must take steps to reduce the noise.

The action values are:

  • Lower exposure level: Daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB; peak sound pressure of 135 dB.
  • Upper exposure level: Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB; peak sound pressure of 137 dB.

The Regulations also specify maximum exposure limits that must not be exceeded even after noise-reducing strategies have been implemented. These are:

  • Daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB
  • Peak sound pressure of 140 dB.

What else should an employer do to protect against industrial deafness?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, employers should implement the following protocols concerning the use of hearing protection for employees at risk of hearing damage:

  • Provide employees with hearing protection whenever they ask for it, regardless of the level of noise exposure
  • Provide employees with hearing protectors whenever the noise exposure reaches the lower action value
  • Specify areas where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, known as hearing protection zones 
  • Ensure that employees know where and how they can obtain hearing protection
  • Make sure that hearing protectors are properly used and maintained.

A worker who has suffered industrial deafness may be eligible to make a claim for compensation against their employer. This is not a direct claim under the Regulations. Instead, the worker would make a personal injury claim and demonstrate that the employer failed to take reasonable care for the worker's hearing.

When assessing the claim, the Courts would look at the Regulations as a guide for deciding whether the employer failed to comply with their legal duties.