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What should my employer do to protect me from noise at work?
Hearing problems caused by noise at work are far too common. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 170,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, tinnitus or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise at work. If your ears ring for hours after you leave work you shouldn't just accept it as normal – you could be storing up serious hearing problems for the future, and there is action your employer can and should be taking to protect you.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force for the music and entertainment industries (this includes pubs, restaurants and clubs where recorded music is played) in 2008, but not all employers have revised their policies and practices.
Under the Regulations, your employer has to:
- assess the risks to workers from noise at work;
- reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
- provide hearing protection if the noise exposure cannot be reduced enough by using other methods;
- make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
- provide workers with information, instruction and training; and
- carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.
If the noise exposure is above certain levels, your employer will need to take action to protect your hearing. This doesn't just mean doling out earplugs to all staff. Other things employers can do include:
- installing acoustically absorbent materials on the walls and ceilings;
- locating bars away from dance floors;
- direct speakers towards the dance floor; and
- rotate staff to different areas to give you time away from noise.
See the Sound Advice website for more information on noise control and ear protection. The HSE leaflet Noise at work - A brief guide to controlling the risks gives more detail on the Regulations, including the noise levels at which employers must take action.
If you are exposed to high noise levels at work, your employer should arrange for you to have your hearing tested regularly by experts. Your employer must keep records of the test results and make sure you are told about your own results and what they mean. They must also make sure you get medical advice if you have a hearing loss.
If your employer issues you with ear protection, you should use it, and if the noise is above certain levels, your employer is obliged to make sure that you do. A wide range of earmuffs and earplugs are available for different purposes, including reusable ones which, for example, allow musicians and DJs to hear music, or bar staff to hear orders clearly.
The TUC webpages on noise and vibration contain information on noise at work.
For more help, also see workSMART's Noise and Hearing section.