On 6 April 2006 the new Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 replace the existing legislation. These reduce the lower action level for daily exposure to noise from 85dB(A) to 80dB(A) and replace the existing absolute limit of 90dB(A) (taking hearing protection into account) with 87dB(A), above which exposure is prohibited. New rules also apply regarding maximum instantaneous sound pressure levels. The Regulations can be found at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051643.htm
Every employer with a ‘noise problem’ which cannot be eliminated has a duty under the Regulations to assess and control the risks and to provide employees who are likely to be exposed to noise with information and training on the attendant risks and to inform them of the steps that can be taken to minimise them. Where necessary, employees must be provided with personal ear protectors and notified of their own obligations under the Regulations. All noise control equipment and hearing protection must be properly maintained.
Last year, a train driver whose employer failed to provide protection from excessive noise levels at work was awarded £10,000 in compensation for damage to his hearing. His employer had considered providing ear protection, but had decided it was not practicable to do so. The Court of Appeal found that this breached the employer’s common-law duty of care to the employee who should at least have been offered ear protection. The employer had also failed to provide the employee with information about the risks to his hearing posed by the noisy environment or what steps he might take to prevent hearing loss.
Employers whose premises or work type expose their employees to noise should take steps to comply with the new stricter standards for control of exposure to noise. An employee who suffers hearing loss because the employer fails to take appropriate action may well be entitled to compensation.