EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Noise

The Noise at Work Directive (2003/10/EC) on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise), replacing an earlier directive of 1986, aims to protect workers from risks arising from exposure to noise. It covers all noises present at work, including impulsive noise.

The Directive defines the physical parameters that serve as risk predictors, such as peak sound pressure, daily noise exposure level and weekly noise exposure level. It sets exposure limit values and exposure action values in respect to the daily and weekly noise exposure level, as well as peak sound pressure. The exposure limit values (fixed at 87 decibels) must take account of the attenuation provided by the personal protective equipment (hearing protectors) worn by the workers. The exposure action value is fixed at 80 decibels (lower value) and 85 decibels (upper value).

As far as possible, employers must remove the risk factors at source or reduce them to a minimum, taking into account factors such as:

  • other working methods with less exposure;
  • appropriate equipment choice;
  • workplace design;
  • training, consultation and participation of workers;
  • use of shields, enclosures, sound-absorbent coverings, dampening and isolation;
  • workplace and equipment maintenance;
  • organisation of work, schedules and rest periods.

Workplaces exceeding the exposure limit values should be marked appropriately and have restricted access. The employer must make individual hearing protectors available to workers. The use of hearing protectors is mandatory where the noise level is above the upper limit value.

Where noise levels present a health risk, EU Member States must ensure the appropriate health surveillance of workers. Those who have been exposed to noise above the upper exposure limit values have the right to have their hearing checked, while those whose exposure to noise is above the lower exposure limit values have the right to preventive audiometric testing.

Where hearing damage is diagnosed, a doctor will assess whether it is likely to be the result of exposure to noise at work. In such cases, the worker must be informed and the employer must:

  • review the risk assessment and measures to reduce risks;
  • take into account medical advice, including the possibility of re-assigning the worker;
  • continue surveillance and review the health of any worker similarly exposed.

Implementation of the Directive is required to take into account the specific nature of the music and entertainment sectors – a key issue in the debate over the Directive’s revision in 2003. Member States are obliged to draw up, in consultation with the social partners, a code of conduct providing practical guidelines to help workers in these sectors.

A non-binding guide to good practice in the Directive’s application, issued by the European Commission in 2009, aims to help companies – especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and all individuals concerned with preventing occupational risks – to implement the provisions of the Directive. The guide devotes a separate chapter to the music and entertainment sectors.

According to the overview report (PDF) for the Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER-2), 30% of workplaces reported loud noise as a risk factor. The perceived risk of loud noise varied considerably by sector, reaching 79% of workplaces in mining and quarrying, 61% in construction and 59% in water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities. Furthermore, 9% of workplaces overall in the EU reported a lack of information or adequate preventive tools to deal effectively with risks related to noise.

See also: health and safety; occupational accidents and diseases; risk assessment; stress at work.

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