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Market Report: Sawing & Cutting

Sounds important

Research suggests that over 1m people are exposed to potentially hazardous noise at work. New legislation this month introduces tighter controls.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (CNWR) come into effect on 6 April. They represent the UK’s response to the European Physical Agents (Noise) Directive, which specifies the minimum requirements for the protection of workers from exposure to noise. An earlier Directive in 1986 was implemented by the Noise at Work Regulations 1989, which are now superseded (except in the music and entertainment industries, which have until 2008 to comply). The CNWR bring in lower noise values at which action is required.

Brian Coles, whose remit as the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Policy Adviser on vibration also includes noise, states, “workplace noise is serious because the damage it causes to health is progressive and irreversible. It also accelerates a natural deterioration that happens with age, so its symptoms can easily be overlooked.”

The CNWR require employers to take specific action at certain noise values. These relate to the average level of exposure over a working day or week, and to the maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day. The lower exposure action values (EAV) are 80dB for daily or weekly exposure, and 135dB for peak sound pressure. The upper EAVs are 85dB and 137dB.

Programme of noise control

The HSE advises that, wherever there is noise at work, employers should look for alternative processes, equipment and/or working methods. Where a risk assessment shows that employees are likely to be exposed at or above the upper EAVs, a planned programme of noise control must be put in place.

The law requires employers to provide employees with hearing protectors if they ask for it and their noise exposure is between the lower and upper EAVs; employees must be provided with hearing protection (and use it properly) when the noise exposure exceeds the upper EAVs. In addition, hearing checks must be provided for all employees who are likely to be regularly exposed to noise above the upper EAVs.

“Regulation of workplace noise is obviously not new, and employers should already be aware of the issue,” states Brian Coles. “However, the lower action values in the CNWR mean that more workers will now be within scope. As with hand arm vibration (HAV), hirers can help by offering equipment with lower noise levels, and giving advice on ear protection and its correct use.”

Positive purchasing and hire policy

The HSE’s free guidance leaflet ‘Noise at work’ (INDG362 (rev1)) suggests that introducing a positive purchasing and hire policy can be the most cost-effective long-term measure to reduce noise at work. Under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992, a supplier must design and construct machinery so that the noise produced is as low as possible, and provide information about the noise produced under actual working conditions.

Also, the Noise Emissions in the Environment by Equipment for Use Outdoors Regulations 2001 applies to machinery such as compressors, breakers, chainsaws, mixers and the like. Machinery within scope must be marked to show the noise emission (sound power) level, and in some categories an upper noise limit is set.

Many employers will be looking for equipment with lower noise levels. Hewden (www.hewden.co.uk) has just launched its ‘Shout about noise reduction’ campaign, which aims to educate construction industry workers about the risks of noise damage. Its Environmental Health & Safety Manager, Martin Williams, states, “the CNWR give priority to controlling noise by technical or organisational means, as opposed to personal protective equipment (PPE). This is because noise control is cost-effective for the long term, and control at source protects a greater number of people. Another consideration to bear in mind is that PPE does not always give expected levels of protection.

“When the correct tool has been chosen, it is important to use the right attachments and accessories. In tests, a cut-off saw was used with four different diamond blades; the variation between the top blade and a ‘budget’ product was between 3dB and 6dB, together with a deterioration in cutting times and efficiency.”

Significant change

Kenneth Hill, Managing Director of the Glasgow-based independent consultancy HSE Solutions (www.hse-solutions.co.uk) contends that noise is a bigger issue than many people realise. “The CNWR lower the action values by 5dB. This is a significant change. Sound is measured logarithmically and a reduction of 3dB halves the noise power level. Realising that 65dB is the level of a normal conversation, and 80dB is now the lower EAV, puts it in perspective.

“As a rule of thumb, if you have to raise your voice to converse with a colleague 2m away, then noise is an issue requiring management. Similarly, anyone using a petrol-engined machine for more than two hours a day will probably require a risk assessment to be carried out. Too many people wrongly think that wearing PPE is enough.

“Hirers should realise that, while larger contractors are usually more aware of new Health & Safety legislation, smaller companies may not be and there is an important educational element to be addressed. They should offer appropriate equipment with lower noise levels, because there will be demand from employers. Those who offer it in their fleets will win the business.”

Executive Hire NewsArchivesMay 2006Market Report › Sounds important

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