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Industrial deafness – the law

How the law controls noise in the workplace

There have been many improvements in recent years regarding health & safety in the workplace. One problem area that often gets overlooked by employers concerns how they control noise and employees exposure to noise. Here we summarise the law relating to industrial hearing loss.

The Department of employment’s Code of Practice in 1972 required employers to:

How the law controls noise in the workplace

There have been many improvements in recent years regarding health & safety in the workplace. One problem area that often gets overlooked by employers concerns how they control noise and employees exposure to noise. Here we summarise the law relating to industrial hearing loss.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 required employers to protect the health and safety of persons at work, including the protection of hearing.

The Department of employment’s Code of Practice in 1972 required employers to:

  • Mark work places where ear protectors were needed.
  • Control entry into ear protection areas.
  • Ensure that suitable ear protectors were provided and used.
  • Ensure that workers provided with ear protectors were instructed in their care and use.
  • Limit a worker’s exposure to noise to 90 decibels per 8 hours per day.

TThe Noise at Work Regulations 1989 came into force in January 1990 and regulate the employer’s duty to its employees.

Noise Action Levels

The Regulations introduced “Action Levels” dependant on the level of noise, and the employers duties varied with each action level:

1st Action Level (noise level 85 decibels)  

  • The employer must arrange for a competent person to assess the noise levels in the work place and keep a record of the assessments.
  • Workers should be informed of risks to hearing and on request to be provided with suitable and efficient ear protectors.

2nd Action Level (noise level 90 decibels)

All of the above for 1st action level plus;

  • Suitable and efficient ear protectors to be provided and used by all exposed workers.
  • Exposure to noise to be reduced as far as is reasonably practicable by means other than ear protectors.
  • Ear protection zones to be set up.

There is a general overriding duty on employers to reduce the risk of hearing loss from noise at work to the lowest level reasonably practicable.

In addition to the obligations placed on employers by the above 1989 Regulations, there are the requirements of the Personal Protective equipment at Work Regulations 1992, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations of 1992 and 1999, and other regulations that have become effective since 1993.

Read how you can measure or identify if you are at risk of suffering hearing loss through work

More links:

Textile worker claim for deafnessDeafness researchBritish Deaf Association HSE on noise induced hearing loss NIHLeear protection information (HSE PDF)

If your employer has failed to take steps to reduce excessive noise in your working environment or provide protective equipment such as ear defenders etc –  you may be entitled to make a claim.

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