The Noise at Work Regulations 2005

1. Introduction

Noise has been described as unwanted sound, which may be distracting, annoying or cause physical damage to the body (e.g. temporary or permanent hearing damage).

The damaging effects of noise are related to the ‘dose’ that the ear receives and this depends on the duration of the exposure and the noise level. Equal doses will cause the same amount of damage. Therefore short exposure to high levels of noise will cause similar damage to lower levels of noise exposure that are of longer duration. 

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations are intended to protect against risks to health and safety from exposure to noise, risk of hearing damage and other risks such as interference with the employee’s ability to hear instructions or warnings.

2. Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

This policy has been revised to reflect changes in the legislation, which arise from an increasing knowledge about noise levels that cause hearing damage. The Regulations introduce new, lower levels at which employers must control noise exposure and include a new limit value, above which employers are required to take immediate action to reduce exposure. 

The requirements for noise risk assessment and suitable control measures have been updated, but remain broadly similar to existing requirements. However the requirements for health surveillance have become more stringent since regular exposure above the revised upper exposure action value can pose a risk of hearing damage. 

The Regulations do not apply to members of the public exposed to noise from non-work activities, or who choose to enter noisy places. Nor do the Regulations apply to noise ‘nuisance’, which causes no risk to health.

3. Exposure limits and action values

Noise is measured in decibels (dB).

The annotation dB(A) means ‘A-weighted’, a measure of noise levels in the audible range for humans.  A ‘C-weighting’, written as dB(C), is used to measure peak, impact or explosive noises. Both measures are important in relation to the exposure limits and action values. 

The Regulations require action at specific values relating to the levels of noise exposure averaged over a working day or week, and the maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed over a working day.

(a)   Lower exposure action values are:

(i)  daily or weekly exposure of 80dB (A), (previously 85)

(ii)  peak sound pressure of 135dB(C)

(b)   Upper exposure action values are:

(i)  daily or weekly exposure of 85dB(A), (previously 90)

(ii)  peak sound pressure of 137dB(C)

Use of a weekly exposure, rather than a daily exposure, may be appropriate where exposure to noise varies from day to day (e.g. the use of power tools on one day but not on others). No allowance should be made for the effects of hearing protection when determining an employee’s noise exposure in relation to the upper or lower action values.

(c)   Exposure limits have also been set which must not be exceeded:

(i)  daily or weekly exposure of 87dB(A)

(ii)  peak sound pressure of 140dB(C)

In this case, account may be taken of the reduction in noise exposure afforded by hearing protection. However if an employee is exposed to noise at or above the exposure limit values then departments must take immediate action to bring exposure down below this level.

4. Assessment of exposure

"Noisy" areas, work activities or processes where there is likely to be risk from noise exposure must be assessed by a competent person. The findings of the assessment should be compared to the action and exposure limit values detailed in section 3.

Examples of areas and work activities that may require assessment include woodworking and other machinery workshops, print-rooms, arboriculture, boiler rooms, ventilation plant rooms and areas which contain air compressors. 

An assessment will also be required where noise becomes intrusive for most of the working day, for example where a vacuum cleaner runs continuously throughout the day, or where employees have to raise their voices to hold a normal conversation 2m away from each other.

In many cases noise measurements will not be necessary and sufficient information about noise emissions may be obtained from equipment manufacturers and suppliers. 

Some examples of typical noise levels are given in the Table in section 14.  

If the assessor is satisfied that noise levels are below the first action value of 80dB(A) then this should be recorded. No further action is required other than to ensure that there are no changes to the area, process or activity, or to take action if changes do arise.

Where estimates approach the action values or exposure limit, noise measurements may be required to determine the specific departmental duties under the Regulations. Generally, noise measurements will be arranged via the Safety Office. 

In all cases the assessment should be recorded and reviewed at least every two years, or when there is a significant change that may invalidate the original assessment.

5. Control of exposure

Where necessary departments must put in place appropriate noise control measures, which should eliminate the risks, where this is reasonably practicable. Where this is not possible then risks should be reduced to as low as reasonably practical by engineering means and management controls. Control of exposure to noise must not be via hearing protection alone.

Where employees or others are exposed at or above the second action value, i.e. 85dB(A), departments must draw up a planned programme of noise control measures. The immediate risk can be managed by the provision of hearing protection. However departments should identify short and long term targets to reduce noise exposure, draft a timetable for implementation of the noise control measures and assign responsibilities to individuals to deliver relevant parts of the plan. 

6. Hearing protection

(a)  Where employees are exposed to noise levels at or above 80db(A), but below 85db(A), they are entitled to request ear protection. Departments must provide this free of charge. 

Information, instruction and training on the risk to hearing from the equipment, process or activity should be provided by the department and should include information about any hearing protection provided, where and how it should be used and the proper way to clean, store and maintain it.

(b)  At or above exposures of 85db(A), departments must devise, implement and maintain a noise control programme (section 5), in addition to providing ear protection and information, instruction and training. Where ear protection is provided the department must enforce its use and those exposed must use it.

(c)  Careful consideration should be given to the selection of hearing protection. Noise levels must be attenuated to less than 85dB(A) at the ear.

Hearing protectors must be suitable for the environment, comfortable for the wearer and compatible with other personal protective equipment such as hard hats, respirators or eye protection. 

Information and advice on ear protection is available from the Safety Office.

7. Hearing protection zones

Hearing protection zones should be designated in any area for which hearing protection is required, i.e. in areas where exposure to noise is above the upper action value of 85dB(A). The area must be clearly marked "Ear Protection Zone" and suitable signs (available from the Safety Office) posted to indicate that hearing protection is mandatory in these areas. 

8. Use and maintenance of noise control equipment

Departments should check regularly that noise control equipment is being properly used, with suitable instructions and adequate supervision to ensure that this is the case.

Equipment, e.g. silencers and attenuating enclosures, should be checked at least annually, and maintained in good condition to ensure continued effectiveness. Records of these checks and any maintenance should be kept in the department.

Re-usable ear protection should be inspected periodically and replaced when necessary. A system of reporting defects should be devised and a person nominated to undertake appropriate and prompt remedial action.

9. Labelling noisy machines

Where machine operators are required to wear ear protection because noise exposure is at or above 85db(A), a sign must be posted on the machine. Appropriate signs can be obtained from the Safety Office.

10. New machinery/equipment/plant

All new machinery, equipment or plant must be designed and constructed to ensure that the noise produced is as low as possible, with a ‘Declaration of Conformity’ to show that it meets the required health and safety requirements. 

Suppliers should be asked to provide information about noise emissions under actual working conditions, as well as any specific instructions for installation and assembly that reduce noise.

Every attempt should be made to install only equipment with noise emissions below 85db(A), but if this is not possible, the risk and risk control measures should be discussed with the Safety Office before an order is placed.

11. Health surveillance

(a)  Employees regularly exposed to noise levels at or above the second action value, that is 85d(A), must be included in a health surveillance programme.

(b)  Where exposure is between the first and second action value, i.e. 80dB(A) and 85dB(A); or where employees are only exposed occasionally to noise levels above 85dB(A), then surveillance will be required only if information comes to light that the employee is particularly sensitive to noise induced hearing loss. 

12. Information, instruction and training.

The importance of training cannot be understated and in many cases the employee’s exposure to noise will be determined by their diligence in using control measures and adhering to good practice. Employees at risk from exposure to noise must understand the risk to their health, the control measures in place to control exposure and the importance of using these appropriately. Training records should be maintained.

13. Summary of departmental action

  • Identify noisy areas during departmental inspections
  • Identify those likely to be at risk from noise exposure
  • Identify any employees or groups of employees whose health may be at particular risk from noise exposure, e.g. pregnant or young workers
  • Identify any likely detrimental health effects arising from an interaction between noise and other agents (e.g. vibration)
  • Obtain a reliable estimate of noise exposure (e.g. from manufacturers’ and suppliers data) and compare the exposure to the action values and limit value
  • If the first action value is being exceeded arrange for daily personal noise exposure levels to be measured, via the Safety Office. Make hearing protection available to exposed employees
  • At or above the second action value, identify the controls necessary to eliminate or reduce noise exposure using recognised noise control solutions, management control measures, good practice, and hearing protection. Designate hearing protection zones and ensure that hearing protection is used and maintained
  • Provide suitable information, instruction and training about noise risks, any control measures in place, safe working practices and hearing protection
  • Identify employees at particular risk who may require health surveillance and refer such individuals to Occupational Health
  • Record the findings of the noise assessment, including those assessments for which no action was required 
  • Review the assessment every two years to ensure that the findings remain valid, or when changes are introduced. Take action where required

14. Guide to Noise Levels

 Quiet office
 Normal conversation
 Loud radio
 Tractor cab
 Busy street
 Power drill
 Heavy lorry (7m away)
 Bar of a night club
 Road drill
 Chain saw
 Jet aircraft taking off (25m away)


March 2006