Back to Basics: Noise at work

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It's time to start making a noise about it - but make sure you keep it below an average of 85 decibels. Anything above that exceeds the limit that...

It's time to start making a noise about it - but make sure you keep it below an average of 85 decibels. Anything above that exceeds the limit that will be introduced as part of the new Control of Noise at Work regulations on April 6. That cuts permitted noise levels by nearly 70 per cent and means that many pubs and bars will need to take action for the first time.

Should you be lucky enough to be running a busy pub, for instance, noise levels could be hitting around 95 decibels, and if you're hosting a live band it could reach 105 decibels - and your barstaff will receive their maximum daily exposure within five minutes.

It's estimated that more than half a million workers in pubs, bars and restaurants will be affected.

Not heard about it? You probably aren't alone. Research by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) suggests 68 per cent of employers in the music and entertainment industries are unaware of their need to comply with the regulations, and 55 per cent have no plans or procedures in place to make hearing protection available to their workforce.

RNID's Emma Harrison expresses concern that the government is not doing enough to get the message across. "If properly implemented, these regulations will save the hearing of hundreds of thousands of people in the music and entertainment industries. If they are ignored or implemented half-heartedly, employers could face a wave of compensation claims from staff," she warns.

The Control of Noise at Work regulations were introduced in most workplaces two years ago as part of an EU directive. The music and entertainment industries, including pubs, were given extra time to get their act together - and that time runs out in April.

From then, licensees will have to measure noise to identify hazards and estimate the likely exposure of their staff. They will have a statutory duty to reduce and eliminate risk of hearing damage, control noise, protect their workforce and keep records.

Failure to comply could result in stiff penalties under health and safety legislation or compensation claims from employees whose hearing has been damaged.Acoustic consultant Shaun Murkett, who has many years' experience helping licensees manage noise levels, believes councils will soon start using the new regulations to crack down on music bars.

"Some local authorities are considering that any bar with music, even background music, will automatically require an assessment, particularly those with high music sound levels, for example over 90 decibels," he says. "The main legal obligation will be to have a noise assessment survey made, and a report produced."

However, James Tingay, a noise measurement expert working for Cirrus Research, adds that, as noise levels vary through the day and night, annual checks by external noise consultants are unlikely to ensure employers meet the terms of the new regulations. He suggests that sound level meters may need to be installed.The pub trade will need a "significant shift in both attitude and practice", he says.

"Venue owners should not simply rely on hearing defenders or earplugs and assume everything will be all right. That cannot be considered good practice."Pub operators have a duty to look at practical solutions, including reducing the noise at source, designing quiet zones into new builds and considering noise exposure when implementing new sound systems."

• For more information go to www.hse.gov.uk/noise

James Tingay of Cirrus Research answers your questions

When do the new regulations come in?

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations were introduced in Britain in 2006 as part of an EU Directive. The music and entertainment industry was given a two-year extension, until April 2008, to meet the requirements.

Why have they been introduced?

The regulations have been introduced to protect the 568,000 people working in Britain's pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and live music venues from hearing problems caused by prolonged exposure to excessive noise.

What do they mean for me?

The new legislation means employers in the industry now have a statutory duty to reduce and eliminate risk, control noise exposure, protect workers, keep records and make hearing protection available if noise levels are above certain limits.

What can employers do?

Employers can monitor risk by:

• Measuring noise levels throughout the working day using noise measurement equipment

• Rotating staff between noisy and quiet areas

• Enforcing 'quiet breaks'

• Incorporating quiet zones into new builds

• Providing hearing protection for staff.

Who will enforce the regulations?

Officers from the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities will have the responsibility of enforcing compliance through spot checks.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Employers risk improvement notices, financial penalties under health and safety legislation or future compensation claims from employees.

www.cirrusresearch.co.uk

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