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Listen Out For New Noise At Work Regulations

11th February 2006

Up to 2.3 million employees potentially affected by introduction of new legislation

SMEs are being warned that under new Noise at Work Regulations the noise levels that employees can be exposed to will be reduced by almost half. This legislation is due to come into effect April 2006 with a two year transitional period for the music and entertainment industry until April 2008.

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) litigation claims could potentially be on the increase due to the fact that NIHL is a recognisable industrial injury. These regulations could open up the music and leisure sector to the level of claims previously seen in heavy industry during the early 1980s.

The introduction of the Noise at Work Regulations in 1989 produced a plethora of claims from the mid to late 1980s as most employers were not aware of the noise induced hearing loss risks and failed to take adequate precautions to protect their employees. All this strengthened the case for civil litigation claims as there were now clear statutory breaches of the 1989 Regulations which established negligence on the part of the employer.

Awards of damages for the impact of loss of hearing can vary between 4,000 and 18,000, and in some cases are far higher depending on the severity of the disability suffered and the age of the person affected. The legal costs associated with any claim for compensation would have to be paid in any successful noise induced hearing loss claim.

The new and reduced noise levels will mean that a much larger working population will fall within the scope of the regulations and that industries/activities previously not classed as high risk noisy environments will now have to re-evaluate their position with respect to noise exposure to employees for example:

* Leisure industry (e.g. clubs, pubs, discos)
* Music stores
* Orchestral musicians, bands etc
* Garages

Companies that are likely to exceed the new level should undertake comprehensive assessment of employees noise exposure, advised Douglas Dale, Risk Control Manager-Liability, AXA. Even those organisations who have existing hearing conservation programmes in place will need to review the attenuation values currently provided by the existing hearing protection in use. This will ensure that the protection provided continues to meet the new reduced noise exposure levels.

With legislation due to come into effect in four months (April 2006), it is important for businesses to put procedures into place now to ensure they are in line when the legislation comes into effect.

Audiometric testing conducted over two year periods is a useful management tool for monitoring the effectiveness of hearing conservation policies. If the testing shows that there is deterioration in individual hearing ability, then the control measures are not adequate and must be improved.

AXA advises all business owners who are likely to be impacted by these regulations to take a number of steps in order to safeguard both themselves and their employees in the future.

Advice for businesses:
Firstly, you must inform workers about the potential risks associated with NIHL and the precautions taken or being taken by the organisation to minimise the risk. Hearing protection must be provided to all employees who ask for them, and maintained in efficient working order.

The main principle of the regulations is to reduce and prevent noise exposure at source by introducing acoustic control measures; these can be quite simple and cost effective measures and should be carried out before considering the issue of hearing protection to employees.

It has been advised that a noise assessment be carried out using personal noise measuring equipment by an occupational hygienist or noise specialist. This needs to be done for all employees exposed to noise on a daily basis. Noise surveys need to be repeated when circumstances change or new equipment or processes are introduced. Audiometric screening of new starters is also recommended to establish their hearing level for future reference. This helps to prevent false indications of NIHL and spurious EIL Claims from being generated.

All exposed employees must be provided with hearing protection and need to be trained in the correct use and maintenance of this equipment their use must be monitored and enforced by the management. Any records relating to disciplinary action and enforcement by management must also be kept to offer credible defence.

Adequate signed records need to be kept clearly indicating the receipt of all information, instruction and training as well as the issue of personal hearing protection.

AXA has put together a guide on the new legislation, which includes details of what employers need to consider in advance of the revised regulations being introduced. The guide can be downloaded free from www.axa4business.co.uk