Protect your hearing from workplace noise

07 February 2024

Man driving a tractor

Exposure to high noise levels can cause permanent hearing damage. It may lead to tinnitus or deafness. Noise can be a safety hazard at work, interfering with communication and making warnings harder to hear.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. The regulations set exposure limits for noise averaged over a working day or week and maximum noise to which workers are exposed to in a working day. If exposures reach 85dB or higher, hearing protection must be worn.

Identifying noise exposure

It is surprising how normalised some noise exposures can be when working in a farming environment. Below is a list of equipment that could create damaging levels of noise:

  • Shot gun – 150dB
  • Unsilenced air discharge – 105dB
  • Chainsaw/pig house at feeding – 100dB
  • Petrol driven lawnmower – 95dB
  • Tractor cab maximum (heavy load) – 90dB
  • Electric drill – 87dB
  • Modern tractor cab – 80db

If you are exposed to any of the above, or if any of the following apply to you, you should be doing something about noise:

  • You have to raise your voice to have a normal conversation when about 2m apart for at least part of the day
  • You use noisy, powered tools or machinery for over half an hour a day
  • There are noises because of impacts such as pneumatic impact tools, cartridge-operated tools and guns
  • When noise is intrusive – such as a busy street, vacuum cleaner, or crowded restaurant for most of the day
  • If you have muffled hearing at the end of the day, even if it is resolved by the next morning.

What you need to do

If there is a noise issue you should:

  • Use quieter equipment or at a different process
  • Make engineering/technical changes to reduce the noise at source
  • Use screens, barriers, enclosures or absorbent materials
  • Lay out the workplace to create quiet workstations
  • Improve ways of working to reduce noise levels
  • Limit the time spent in noisy areas.

Hearing protection

Hearing protection, such as earmuffs and plugs, are the last line of defence against damage to hearing loss.

  • Earmuffs – should totally cover the ears and have no gaps around the seals. Hair, jewellery, glasses, and hats should not interfere with the seal. Seals and the insides need to be kept clean. The headband should not be overstretched as the tension is crucial to protection. Helmet-mounted earmuffs need care to get a good seal around the ears.
  • Earplugs – go right into the ear canal and not just across it. Practice may be needed to fit them properly. Hands should be cleaned before fitting and the plugs should never be shared. Make sure you know if plugs can be reused or are one-use only.
  • Semi-inserts/canal caps – these are held in or across the ear canal by a band. Check for a good seal every time they are used. Follow the same general advice as for earplugs and make sure any band keeps its tension.

More information and advice on dealing with noise in the workplace is available on the Noise at work page on the HSE website.

This page was first published on 23 July 2021. It was updated on 07 February 2024.

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