Noise

Noise -Frequently asked questions


What are the Control of Noise at Work Regulations?
The Regulations are Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the General Application Regulations 2007.  These Regulations revoke and replace the European Communities (Protection of Workers)(Exposure to Noise) Regulations 1990 (S.I. No. 157 of 1990) and replace the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Control of Noise at Work) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 371 of 2006). The purpose of these Regulations is to transpose Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of employees to the risks arising from physical agents (noise).

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What legislation is available to protect workers from noise exposure?

  • The Regulations are the General Application Regulations 2007, Chapter 1 of Part 5: Control Of Noise at Work.

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What are the risks for employees exposed to high levels of noise?

Exposure to high levels of noise, either continuously or as a loud sudden ‘bang’ from equipment such as cartridge-operated tools or guns, can have a number of physiological and psychological effects on workers including stress, tinnitus and if exposed to high noise levels over long periods of time, permanent loss of hearing can occur.  High noise levels can also interfere with communications in the workplace, leading to an increased risk of accidents.

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Should workers be informed if noise exposure levels are too high?
Workers and their representatives must be informed:

  • that the noise level is likely to exceed 85 dBA and of the potential risk of damage to hearing
  • about the measurements taken of the noise levels and an explanation of the significance of the results
  • about what is being done to reduce the noise levels

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What action should be taken when the noise exposure level is too high?
First Action Level 80dB (A): - Regulation 125 specifies the actions that must be taken by the employer when the level is between 80dB (A) and 85dB (A).  The employer must (in addition to reducing noise levels by general action) inform each potentially affected worker and their representatives of the following:

  • the results of the measurements taken of the noise and the possible risk to their hearing
  • Results of preventative audiometric testing
  • what measures are being introduced to reduce the noise levels in the workplace
  • the advisability of wearing hearing protection that’s individually fitted and where and how to obtain it
  • hearing checks that are available
  • provide any necessary information and where relevant training

Regulations 126 and 127 specify, in addition to the previous requirements, when the level is above 85dB (A) the employer must:

  • Identify the reasons for the excess noise and put in place a programme to reduce it.  This could be either of a technical nature or of organisation of work or both.
  • Provide the services of a registered medical practitioner to carry out hearing checks and audiometric testing.
  • put up clearly visible and legible signs indicating that the noise level in the area is likely to exceed 85dB (A), in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work General Application Regulations 2007 (regulations 158 to 162 inclusive).

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What action should be taken when the noise exposure is at the Second Action Level 85dB (A)?

Regulations 126 and 127 specify, in addition to the previous requirements, when the level is above 85dB (A) the employer must:

  • Identify the reasons for the excess noise and put in place a programme to reduce it.  This could be either of a technical nature or of organisation of work or both.
  • Provide the services of a registered medical practitioner to carry out hearing checks and audiometric testing.
  • put up clearly visible and legible signs indicating that the noise level in the area is likely to exceed 85dB (A), in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Signs) Regulations 1995

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What factors should be considered in the cause of noise induced hearing loss?

An employer should look at both of the following:

  • the level of noise and
  • the length of time of exposure

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How is the noise level measured?

This is measured in units known as decibels dB (A). However as a rough guide, if it is difficult to hear a normal conversation at a distance of 2m from the person speaking, it is likely that the noise levels in the area are above the levels permitted under these regulations (i.e. over 80dB (A))

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How long should a worker be exposed to noise?

In accordance with the current regulations every employer shall reduce the risks resulting from exposure to noise to the lowest level reasonably practicable, taking account of technical progress and the availability of measures to control the noise in particular, at source. However the potential risk to an employees hearing can be related to the length of time a person is exposed to certain levels of noise, both daily and the cumulative amounts over a number of years.

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How often should measurements be taken?

Measurement of noise must be repeated at appropriate intervals especially if there is any significant change in work patterns or equipment.  The measurements must reflect the actual amount of noise the worker is exposed to over the working day.  Measurements can either be taken using the appropriate equipment, in the workplace used by the worker or by using instruments attached to the worker.

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What is the daily noise exposure level?

This is the time – weighted average of the noise level which an employee is exposed to for a nominal eight hour working day, which is defined by an international standard ISO.  If the daily noise exposure varies from one working day to the next, employers may use a weekly noise exposure level to assess the levels of noise to which an employee may be exposed to.

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What is the weekly noise exposure level?
This is the time weighted average of the daily noise exposure levels for a normal week of a five eight hour working days.  This may be used by employer to determine the noise exposure to employees if the daily noise exposure varies from one working day to the next. 

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What are exposure action values?

The Noise Regulations require an employer to take specific action at certain action values. These are the daily noise exposure level or the peak sound pressure level which, if exceeded, for an employee, action will need to be taken to reduce the risk. 

These relate to:

  • The levels of exposure to noise of your employees averaged over a working day or week; and
  • The maximum noises (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day.

The values are:

lower exposure action values:

  • daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB;
  • peak sound pressure of 135 dB;

upper exposure action values:

  • daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB;
  • peak sound pressure of 137 dB.  

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What are the exposure limit values?

This is the daily noise exposure or a peak sound pressure level which must not be exceeded for an employee in the workplace.  When an employer is determining the exposure limit value they must take account of the attenuation provided by individual hearing protectors which are worn by the employees.

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What is peak sound pressure?

This is the maximum value of the ‘C’ frequency weighted instantaneous noise pressure.  This can be short bursts of noise energy at any given time. 

Sound pressure (p) is the average variation in atmospheric pressure caused by the sound. (Unit – Pascal)

The pressure is continuously varying between positive and negative values, so the average variation is measured by its root mean square.

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When can an employer use weekly noise exposure level in place of daily noise exposure when assessing level of noise be carried out?

Regulation 123, section 4 states that; an employer can use weekly noise exposure level, when there is a constant variation in the daily noise exposure from one working day to the next for the purposes of applying the exposure limit values and the exposure action values, to assess the levels of noise to which his or her employees are exposed, provided that,

  1. The weekly noise exposure level as shown by adequate monitoring does not exceed the exposure limit value of 87db (A), and
  2. Appropriate measures are taken in order to reduce the risk associated with these activities to a minimum.

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When should a risk assessment for noise be carried out?

When a risk assessment is been carried out an employer shall, if necessary, measure the noise levels which his or her employees are exposed to.

Regulation 124 states that Determination and Assessment of risks must be carried out when;

  • When employees are liable to be exposed to noise at work, which is above lower exposure. 
  • When employees are exposed to levels of noise whose safety or health is at a particular risk,
  • As far as technically possible, any effects on employees’ safety and health resulting from any interactions between noise and work-related ototoxic substances, and between noise and vibrations. 
  • Where there is an indirect effect on employees’ safety or health from interaction between noise and warning signals, or other sounds which need to be observed in order to reduce risks of accidents.
  • When information on noise emission is provided by the manufactures of work equipment, in accordance with section 16 of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
  • If there is an extension of noise exposure beyond the normal working hours, which is under the employer’s responsibility, or the action value, the employer must consult with his or her employees or their representative, and make an appropriate assessment to reduce the risks involved. 
  • When alternative equipment is made available to reduce noise emission. 

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What should an employer give particular attention to when carrying out a risk assessment?

When an employer is carrying out a risk assessment the regulations require that he or she takes reasonable steps to satisfy him or herself that the assessment meets the requirements of the regulations , even if the assessment is been carried out by persons outside the company.  Particular attention should be given to the following:

  • The level, type and duration of the exposure
  • The work employees carry out or are likely to carry out
  • The routine in which work is been carried out by employees
  • Variations in the type of work
  • Identification of the immediate risk
  • Identify what is possible to control, and how the risk can be reduced
  • The exposure limit values and the exposure action values
  • The availability of alternative equipment which is provided to reduce the noise emission. 
  • that ear protection is available and must be worn

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When should the risk assessment be reviewed?

Regulation 131 states that the Risk assessment be reviewed, where the results of health surveillance show it to be necessary. 

If circumstances in your workplace have changed, this may affect the noise exposure.   

Regular reviews should be carried out to ensure continuity to do all that is reasonably practicable to control the noise risks. Even if it appears that nothing has changed, you should not leave it for more than about two years without checking whether a review is needed.

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What information and training should workers receive?

Information and training relating to risk resulting from exposure to noise should include:

  • The nature of such risks,
  • The organisational and technical measures taken in order to comply with the requirements of Regulation 125,
  • The exposure limit values and the exposure action values specified in Regulation 123,
  • The results of the assessment and measurements of the noise carried out in accordance with Regulation 124 and an explanation of their significance and the potential risks,
  • The correct use of hearing protectors,
  • Why and how to detect and report signs of hearing damage,
  • The circumstances in which health surveillance is made available to employees, and its purpose, in accordance with Regulation 131,
  • Safe working practices to minimise exposure to noise.

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Who should health surveillance be made available to?

Health surveillance should be made available to employees whose risk assessment revealed a risk to their health.

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What is the purpose of audiometric testing?

The purpose of Audiometric testing is to provide an early diagnosis of any hearing loss due to noise and to assist in the preservation of hearing.

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Who can view employee health records?

An employer shall allow on request an employee access to his/ her personal health record as well as the Authority.

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If an employer ceases trade what should an employer do with health records?

If an employer ceases to trade they should notify the Authority in writing and make available to the Authority all health records kept by him or her in accordance with the regulations

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What should an employer do if an employee is found to have hearing damage as a result of exposure to noise at work?

  • The registered medical practitioner should inform every relevant employee of the result that relates to them personally.
  • The employer should review the risk assessment and the control measures provided to eliminate or reduce risks.

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What steps can an employer take to prevent or control the risks associated with noise induced hearing loss?

As with any other hazard the control of noise has a hierarchy of control options: elimination, substitution, PPE etc.

Noise elimination and control can be seen as:

  • Engineering (e.g. control of vibration by damping or tightening parts in the noise source)
  • Administrative (e.g. by good procurement or by rescheduling work to decrease exposure time of the employees involved)
  • Personal Protection – As a last resort by the use of suitably selected personal ear protection

The options can be summarised as follows:

  1. If possible, remove the source of noise from the workplace
  2. Control the noise at source (by identifying what is actually making the noise in the noise source and dealing with the problem)
  3. By collective control measures (e.g. by engineering controls such as enclosing the noise source, workplace design such as isolating the noise source or having suitable acoustics within the work area to reduce the transmission of noise)
  4. By individual control measures (personal protective equipment) if the measures above are not adequate as an interim measure until suitable noise

The basic rule is to make the workplace as quiet as possible and only when you have done everything in your power (i.e. is reasonable practicable) to make it quiet, use suitable and adequate personal hearing protection.

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Is the employer responsible to supply ear protection?

Regulation 129 states that the employer must supply sufficient numbers of suitable ear protectors, consulting with the workers regarding suitability and adequacy of the type chosen.  Ear protectors are only suitable and adequate, if and when properly worn; they will reduce the level of noise experienced by the employee to a level below 85 dBA.  Part of the necessary training will be to ensure that workers know exactly how and when to use the ear protection chosen.

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How should personal protection devices be chosen?

The choice between earmuff and earplugs must be done using the following criteria:

  1. The level of protection should be determined after measuring the level of the noise and the relevant frequencies (i.e. Octave Band Analysis).
  2. The type of protection should be decided dependent on the type of work and personal characteristics of the worker (e.g. workers who have to wear eye protection during grinding may have a limited range of products available as the hearing protection has to be complementary with the eye protection.  The arms of spectacles or goggles can stop a good seal with earmuffs so the worker loses hearing protection.  Also facial hair may reduce the seal achieved by the ear protectors so that the protection is reduced).
  3. The type of workplace may also influence the range of protection available (e.g. use of earplugs in dirty workplaces may increase the risk of ear infection).

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What type of PPE should be used?

PPE such as earplugs and earmuffs should be used as a last resort after all efforts to eliminate or reduce the source of the noise have been exhausted. 

There are Irish, British and International Standards (ISO) set for ear protectors.  The National Standards of Ireland can be contacted on 01 8073800 or visit their website on http://www.nsai.ie/

BS EN 352-1-3:2002 – Hearing protectors, safety requirements & testing. Earmuffs, earplugs and earmuffs attached to an industrial safety helmet can be viewed on http://www.bsi-global.com/

Also Schedule 2 of Regulation 62 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Applications Regulations), 2007 provides a non-exhaustive guide list of activities and sectors of activity, which may require the protection of personal protective equipment.  These include:

  • Work with metal presses
  • Work with pneumatic drills
  • Work with turbines
  • The work of ground staff at airports
  • Pipe-driving work
  • Wood and textile work

Schedule 2 (Regulation 62) also provides a non-exhaustive guide list of items of PPE.  To prevent noise induced hearing loss these include:

  • Earplugs and similar devices
  • Full acoustic helmets
  • Earmuffs which can be fitted to industrial helmets
  • Ear defenders with receiver for LF induction loop
  • Ear protection with intercom equipment

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Can a worker in a noisy environment be overprotected?

Yes, if the protection (known as attenuation) provided by personal ear protection is too high, workers are overprotected. Communication becomes difficult and people are working in isolation.  Standard EN 458 states that the level of attenuation (protection) is good if the noise level is 5 dB under the national action level.  This will mean that communications in the workplace is not disturbed too much.

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Which are better, ear muffs or ear plugs?

There is no definite answer to this.  The following should be considered when choosing which to wear:

  • Earplugs may not fit everyone.  People with narrow ear canals or ear infections may not be able to use earplugs.
  • Earplugs may cause ear infections.  To avoid these problem disposable plugs should not be re-used often or shared and non-disposable plugs should be properly cleaned at regular and frequent intervals in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Some workers can experience dizziness and sensation of vertigo when using plugs.
  • All workers need proper training to put the earplugs in properly.
  • Some workers find wearing earmuffs uncomfortable, particularly in warm or humid working conditions.
  • The employer must ensure that all hearing protection is properly stored when not in use and that a suitable programme for cleaning and maintenance of the hearing protection is introduced.

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Who is responsible for organising hearing checks?

Regulation 131 states that the employer must make the necessary arrangements for workers to have hearing checks carried out by a competent medical practitioner.

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What does a competent medical practitioner mean?

Competent means being able to carry out the hearing check and audiometry as indicated in the Noise Regulations.  The medical practitioner must:

  • keep a record of the hearing checks for 15 years
  • allow each worker to see their own hearing check records
  • explain to each worker the significance of the records
  • inform both the employer and worker of any preventative measures necessary
  • make the records available for inspection by the HSA 

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Who should have hearing checks?

  1. Before exposing an employee to a work environment where high noise levels are the norm, an initial test should be carried out to establish the individual’s current hearing ability.
  2. A second test should be offered to the employee within 12 months of the first test, and repeated thereafter at intervals not exceeding five years.
  3. Workers who are exposed to a noise level above 80 dBA (whether or not hearing protection is used) may have their hearing checked at their employer’s expense every two years.  This must include an audiometric test - a test of hearing ability

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Where can I find medical practitioners who provide audiometric services?

Contact details for providers of audiometric services may be found in the Golden Pages under the heading ‘Noise and Vibration Control’.

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Who is exempt from the requirements of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations?

The Authority may in exceptional situations by certificate of writing exempt any person or class of persons from the requirements of Regulations 128 and 129 where:

  • Because of the nature of work hearing protection would be likely to cause a greater risk

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What does the Authority have to do to grant an exemption?

Before an exemption is granted The Authority must:

  • Consult with representatives of employers and employees and other appropriate persons
  • Ensure the risk resulting from exemption is reduced, as far as reasonably practicable to a minimum, and
  • The employees concerned are getting appropriate health surveillance.
  • Review the exemption every 4 years.

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What is the transitional period for sea-going vessels?

Regulation 128 shall not apply until 15 February 2011.

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Can noise cause stress?

Work related stress is experienced when the demands of the work environment exceed the worker’s ability to cope with them.  Work related stress is normally the result of a combination of risk factors that can include the exposure to other workplace hazards (e.g. dangerous machinery, loud noise) and the work environment itself (e.g. poor lighting, ventilation, noise).  Some noise may have a tonal quality, which may cause a particular nuisance and increase an individual’s stress.

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Can noisy work environment increase the likelihood of accidents?

A noisy workplace can increase the risk of accidents in two ways.  First, high noise levels can make it more difficult to hear approaching dangers (e.g. vehicles) and warnings (either verbal or alarms).  Secondly, noise can increase the likelihood of accidents through creating demands on attention and affecting concentration.  Information will be processed less efficiently, reflexes will be slower and risk-taking will increase.  This does not leave much capacity for noticing risks and emergencies that may cause accidents and therefore increases the likelihood for accidents to happen.

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Are certain occupations more exposed to noise level than others?

Working conditions in the entertainment industry differ from those in other industries, in several respects.  In particular employees may be obliged to work in environments where high sound levels are so loud that they actually cause loss of hearing.  Those most likely to be at risk from exposure to loud music include:

  • Workers in nightclubs, discos, music bars, concert venues and other establishments where loud music is performed or played
  • Musicians
  • Bar staff, security staff and disc jockeys
  • Patrons

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What can be done to improve the noise from music in my nightclub?

  1. Limiting devices may be fitted to amplifiers, speakers and other sound equipment in order to prevent sound rising above a specified level.
  2. Regular checks should be carried out (including during performances) to ensure that the limiting devices have not been disabled and are functioning properly.
  3. Speakers should be positioned in such a way as to ensure that employee’s exposure to noise is minimised
  4. Management should ensure that rosters are rotated so that all employees likely to be affected by exposure to noise spend a certain proportion of their time working in quiet areas
  5. Disk jockeys should be provided with soundproof work enclosures

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Should music be used to block out a noisy workplace?

In order to hear music in a noisy workplace, it has to be played at a level 10-15 dBA over any background noise.  This means that the music itself becomes the major source of noise exposure in the workplace.  This also applies to personal music systems such as Walkmans as well as any music being played over loudspeakers.

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How can quiet machinery be chosen?

Work equipment and plant are usually the major reason for high sound pressure levels.  EU Directive 2000/14/EC states that machinery must be so designed and constructed that noise is reduced to the minimum in particular at source.  The manufacturer must include in the machinery instructions, any information concerning noise emission if the noise emission exceeds 70 dBA.  Where noise level does not exceed 70 dBA this must be indicated.  Also peak C-weighted instantaneous sound pressure value where this exceeds 63 Pa (130 dB in relation to 20µPa) must be mentioned.

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How can a noise problem be identified?

An employer must assess the level of noise in the workplace.  If any workers are exposed to a daily personal noise exposure above 80dB (A), then appropriate measurements must be taken in accordance with the regulations and the original EU Directive i.e. carry out an occupational noise assessment.

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What is a competent person?

A competent person is someone:

  • with knowledge and understanding of the Noise Regulations
  • who has the ability to use the correct measurement equipment
  • who can record and interpret the results obtained in accordance with the regulations
  • who can make suitable and appropriate recommendations on how the noise levels can be reduced and so reduce the risk of hearing damage occurring.

In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005; a person shall be deemed to be competent when they possess sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the task being undertaken

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How long should records be kept?

These records should be kept for 10 years and be available to the worker concerned or his/her representative and to the Inspectors of the Health and Safety Authority.

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What Publications are available from the HSA regarding noise?

The following are available from the HSA Publications Unit 1890 289389 or from website

Concerned About Your Hearing

Guidelines on Hearing Checks and Audiometry: A Guide to Hearing Checks and Preventative Audiometric Testing

The Noise of Music: A Guide to Exposure to Noise in the Entertainment Industry

Control of Noise: A guide to the Safety Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. Chapter 1 of Parts 5: Control of Noise at Work

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