The Health and Safety Authority is the competent body with responsibility for securing health and safety at work, consequently the issue of occupational noise is addressed by the Health and Safety Authority.
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 ( 296KB) repealed and replaced the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act of 1989. The purpose of the new Act is to make further provision for the safety, health and welfare of persons at work. It sets down responsibilities for employers, employees, the self employed and other groups in relation to safety and health at work. Measures for securing health and safety at work are detailed, in addition to requirements concerning safety consultation and representation. The role and functions of the Health and Safety Authority are outlined along with enforcement measures and details regarding offences and penalties for breach of occupational health and safety.
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007.
On the 1st of November 2007, Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 ( 31.2MB) re-transposed Directive 2003/10/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding worker exposure to noise. Chapter 1 of Part 5 applies to activities where employees are likely to be exposed to noise which could pose a risk to safety and health and in particular pose a risk to hearing. The 2007 Regulations replace the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Control of Noise at Work) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 371 of 2006)( 86KB) which have been revoked from that date. Regulation 128 will not apply to personnel on board seagoing vessels until 15 February 2011.
A sound level meter is the name given to the instrument used for measuring noise. In the case of measuring personal exposure a dosimeter is worn by the employee. Noise is measured in decibels (dB). In order to address the way the human ear responds to sound of different frequencies an A-weighting is applied and measurements are expressed in dB (A). A wide band frequency-weighting or C-weighting dB(C) is applied to measure peak, impact or explosive noises.
Exposure Limit Values and Exposure Action Values.
Specific “Exposure Limit Values” and “Exposure Action Values” are prescribed in the Regulations. The “Exposure Limit Values” represents the level of daily noise exposure or peak sound pressure which must not be exceeded for any employee.
The “Exposure Limit Values” prescribed in the regulations are;
LEX, 8h = 87 dB (A) and P peak = 140 dB (C) in relation to 20 µPa.
The “Exposure Action Values” are the level of daily noise exposure or peak pressure level which if exceeded requires specific action to be taken to reduce the risk to an employee. The Regulations also prescribe upper and lower exposure action values.
The “Upper Exposure Action Values” prescribed in the regulations are;
LEX, 8h = 85 dB (A) and P peak = 137 dB (C) in relation to 20 µPa.
The “Lower Exposure Action Values” prescribed in the regulations are;
LEX, 8h = 80 dB (A) and P peak = 135 dB (C) in relation to 20 µPa
The Regulations allow an employer to calculate exposure over a week rather than a day in instances where noise exposure varies significantly from day to day. The formula for calculating weekly exposure is defined by international standard ISO 1999: 1990, point 3.6 (note 2). However, when considering using weekly averaging it is essential to ensure that there is no increased risk to health.
Assessment of Risks above a Lower Exposure Action Value.
In workplaces where employees are liable to be exposed to noise which is above a “Lower Exposure Action Value”, the employer must determine and assess the risks arising from such exposure. This should be done in conjunction with sections 19 and 20 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. If it is deemed necessary noise levels shall be measured. The risk assessment shall be carried out competently at suitable intervals and shall be representative of the daily personal exposure. The methods and apparatus used should conform to those specified in the Regulations.
The employer should give particular attention to the level, type and duration of exposure and also the likelihood of exposure to impulsive noise. The “exposure limit values” and the “exposure action values” should be given particular attention as should the effects of noise exposure on employees. Further measures for attention are outlined in Regulation 124 (e). A review of a risk assessment should be conducted where the results of health surveillance indicated that it is necessary. The findings of risk assessments should be recorded in the safety statement as soon as it is practicable and any steps deemed necessary to comply with the Regulations should be taken. Provision is also made in these Regulations for the review of risk assessments and measurements.
Provisions aimed at Avoiding or Reducing Exposure.
An employer shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure that the risk arising from exposure to noise is either eliminated at source or reduced to a minimum. Methods of achieving this include the use of work practices which eliminate or reduce exposure, choosing equipment that emits the least possible noise or proper layout and design of workplaces. An employer shall also ensure information and training for employees on the correct use of equipment. If it is possible to do so noise reduction should be carried out by technical means and appropriate maintenance programmes for work equipment should also be put in place.
Exposure to noise can also be reduced through organisation of work, such as, limiting the duration and intensity of exposure and arranging appropriate work schedules with adequate rest periods. Where rest facilities are provided the noise levels there should be compatible with their purpose. The employer should also adapt any measure taken in compliance with these Regulations and Regulation 126 and 127 where an employee’s health and safety is at a particular risk from noise exposure.
Application of Upper Exposure Action Values.
If a risk assessment reveals that an “Upper Exposure Action Value” is exceeded then it is the duty of the employer to establish and implement a programme of technical or organisational measures or both designed to reduce noise exposure, whilst also taking into account the measures referred to in Regulation 125.
Prevention of Exposure above Noise Level of 85 dB (A).
If it is established through a risk assessment that there are workstations within the place of work where employees are likely to be exposed to noise above 85 dB (A) then mandatory warning signs should be displayed. These should convey that noise levels are likely to exceed the upper exposure action value and that hearing protectors are available and should be worn. These workstations should also be protected from unauthorised access by suitable means.
Application of Exposure Limit Value.
Subject to Regulation 122 an employer shall ensure that employees are not exposed to noise above the exposure limit value. But if it is detected that employees have been exposed above this limit then immediate action must be taken to reduce exposure and the reasons for the occurrence must be identified. In accordance with Regulation 125 organisational and technical measures must be taken to prevent the exposure limit value being exceeded again.
An employer shall in accordance with sections 8, 9, 10, 13 and 14 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 make available individual hearing protectors which comply with the relevant statutory provisions. This shall be done where the risks arising from exposure cannot be prevented by other means. Where noise exposure exceeds the lower exposure action values an employer shall make available individual hearing protectors. Individual hearing protectors should be selected in consultation with employees or their representatives. An employer shall also ensure that hearing protectors are used appropriately and effectively. Employees whose exposure to noise equals or exceeds the upper exposure action values shall use individual hearing protectors.
Employee Information, Training and Consultation.
In workplaces where employees are exposed to noise at or above the lower exposure action value either they or their representatives should be provided with suitable and sufficient information and training relating to the risks that result from noise exposure. The information and training should include; the nature of the risks, compliance measures to be taken, the exposure limit values and exposure action values specified in the Regulations, the results of risk assessments and an explanation of their significance. Also the correct use of hearing protectors should be outlined as well as how to detect signs of hearing damage. The circumstances in which health surveillance is made available should also be outlined in addition to safe working practices to minimise exposure to noise. Consultation with employees should be carried out in conjunction with section 26 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 along with the relevant sections of these Regulations.
Health Surveillance and Record Management.
An employer shall ensure that appropriate health surveillance is made available where a risk assessment reveals it necessary to do so. In cases where employees are exposed above an upper exposure action value then a registered medical practitioner should be made available for carrying out hearing checks. In the case of employees whose exposure exceeds a lower exposure action value then preventive audiometric testing should be made available. The purpose of these checks is to detect early signs of work related ill-health and to assist in the preservation of hearing.
An employer shall also maintain a health record for each employee who undergoes health surveillance and a record or copy of this shall be kept for the future. An employee shall be allowed access to his or her health record. The employer shall make available to the Health and Safety Authority copies of records if requested to do so. When an employer ceases to trade they then shall notify the Authority in writing and make available all records kept by them. If an employee is found to have identifiable hearing damage then the employer shall ensure that a registered medical practitioner assesses whether such damage is likely to be as a result of exposure to noise at work. If it is so, then every relevant employee shall be informed of the result which relates to them personally.
The employer shall review the risk assessment and the measures provided to eliminate or reduce the risks. They shall also take into account the advice of the medical practitioner, or the Health and Safety Authority in implementing measures to reduce risk including reassigning the employee to alternative work which does not have further risk of exposure. If there are other employees who have been similarly exposed then their health status should be reviewed and systematic health surveillance provided.