Noise and hearing loss

How to identify if noise is a problem and what you can do to minimise this

Precautions to reduce noise

Your organisation should have a system of staff consultation. Staff should be able to raise concerns about noise levels and other health and safety issues in the workplace.

You may need more than one control measure if noise comes from a variety of sources in the workplace. You should try to reduce noise levels to the lowest practicable level.

​Legal noise limits

You should take specific action if noise exposure is at or above the Lower exposure action values of:

  • daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB (32 exposure points)
  • peak sound pressure of 135 dB

Additional controls will be needed if your staff are exposed at the upper exposure action values of:

  • daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB (100 exposure points)
  • peak sound pressure of 137dB

Your staff should not be exposed to levels at or above the exposure limit values of:

  • daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB
  • peak sound pressure of 140 dB

You can find more information about legal noise limits on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) site.

Reduce noise levels

Reduced noise levels will directly reduce the risk of hearing loss for your employees. You should consider the use of alternative equipment or safe systems of work including:

  • shock absorbers
  • well maintained equipment
  • sound barriers, absorbers or reflectors
  • designing work areas to separate noisy machines
  • silencers and vibration dampers to machines and tools
  • limiting the amount of time employees need to spend in noisy areas each day

Provide hearing protection

Hearing protection in noisy environments should normally only be considered as a temporary measure. You should work to reduce noise levels to below exposure action values. Protection should be used as a last resort where a risk remains after steps have been taken to reduce noise levels.

While working to reduce noise levels, it is good practice to provide suitable hearing protection to staff exposed above 80db(A).

Where noise exposure exceeds 85 db(A), you must provide hearing protection to everyone exposed and make sure it is used.
You should also:

  • make sure that hearing protection is properly maintained
  • identify zones with signs to show where hearing protection must be worn
  • introduce a health surveillance program for hearing assessments if required
  • provide information, instruction and training on how to use, take care of and reorder hearing protection

Hearing protection comes in two main types:

  • those that cover the ear
  • those that are inserted in the ear

Hearing protection often needs to be worn with other protective equipment such as glasses or hard hats. Make sure that these are compatible and one system does not interfere with the other.

Carry out hearing checks

Hearing checks must be provided when employees are:

  • exposed regularly to high noise levels
  • at increased risk of hearing loss, perhaps from a pre-existing medical condition

It is good practice to carry out hearing checks for new employees working in noisy workplaces. This will allow you to gather baseline health and hearing information. This will help identify the potential risk of hearing loss throughout the employees working life.

Find out more

You can find more information on precautions to reduce noise and hearing loss ​in our publication Health Risks at Work.

You can also find further guidance on noise at work on the HSE website.