Exposure to noise

Table of Contents:

Exposure to noise

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Exposure to noise


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Employment and social policy > Health hygiene and safety at work

Exposure to noise

Document or Iniciative

Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 February 2003 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise)

Seventeenth individual Directive within the meaning of Article 16(1) of Directive 89/391/EEC [See amending acts].



The physical parameters used to measure noise are as follows: peak sound pressure (maximum value of instantaneous noise pressure), daily noise exposure level and weekly noise exposure level.
The exposure limit value is fixed at 87 decibels (taking into account the attenuation provided by the individual hearing protectors worn by the workers) and the exposure action values are fixed at 80 decibels (lower value) and 85 decibels (upper value).


Determination and assessment of risks

In carrying out the obligations laid down in the framework Directive on the improvement of the health of workers at work, the employer, via the intermediary of the competent services, must assess and, if necessary, measure the levels of noise to which workers are exposed. The results of this assessment must be recorded on a suitable medium and kept up to date on a regular basis.

The employer must give particular attention, when carrying out the risk assessment, to the following:

  • the level, type and duration of exposure, including any exposure to impulsive noise;
  • the exposure limit values and the exposure action values;
  • any effects concerning the health and safety of workers belonging to particularly sensitive risk groups;
  • as far as technically achievable, any effects on workers’ health and safety resulting from interactions between noise and work-related ototoxic substances, and between noise and vibrations;
  • any indirect effects on workers’ health and safety resulting from interactions between noise and warning signals or other sounds;
  • information on noise emission provided by manufacturers of work equipment in accordance with the relevant Community directives;
  • the existence of alternative work equipment designed to reduce the noise emission;
  • the extension of exposure to noise beyond normal working hours under the employer’s responsibility;
  • appropriate information obtained following health surveillance;
  • the availability of hearing protectors with adequate attenuation characteristics.

Provisions aimed at avoiding or reducing exposure

Taking account of technical progress and of the availability of measures to control the risk at source, the risks arising from exposure to noise must be eliminated at their source or reduced to a minimum. The reduction of the basic risks must be based on the general principles of prevention set out in Directive 89/391/EEC and take into account in particular:

  • other working methods that require less exposure to noise;
  • the choice of appropriate work equipment;
  • the design and layout of workplaces and work stations;
  • adequate information and training to instruct workers to use work equipment correctly in order to reduce their exposure to noise to a minimum;
  • noise reduction by technical methods: reducing airborne noise (shields, enclosures, sound-absorbant coverings) and reducing structure-borne noise (dampening, isolation);
  • appropriate maintenance programmes for work equipment, the work place and workplace systems;
  • organisation of work to reduce noise: limitation of the duration and intensity of exposure and appropriate work schedules with adequate rest periods.

Workplaces where workers are likely to be exposed to noise exceeding the exposure action values should be marked with appropriate signs and access to them should be restricted.

Where, owing to the nature of the activity, a worker benefits from the use of rest facilities under the responsibility of the employer, noise in these facilities must be reduced to a level compatible with their purpose and the conditions of use.

Personal protection

If the risks arising from exposure to noise cannot be prevented by other means, properly fitting individual hearing protectors must be made available to workers and used by them in accordance with Directive 89/656/EEC on the use of personal protective equipment:

  • where noise exposure exceeds the lower exposure action values, the employer must make individual hearing protectors available to workers;
  • where noise exposure matches or exceeds the upper exposure action values, individual hearing protectors must be used;
  • the individual hearing protectors must be so selected as to eliminate the risk to hearing or to reduce the risk to a minimum.

Limitation of exposure

Under no circumstances may the exposure of the worker exceed the exposure limit values. If, despite the measures taken to implement this Directive, exposures above the exposure limit values are detected, the employer must:

  • take immediate action to reduce the exposure to below the exposure limit values,
  • identify the reasons why overexposure has occurred and amend the protection and prevention measures in order to avoid any recurrence.

Worker information and training

The employer must ensure that workers who are exposed to noise at work at or above the lower exposure action values, and/or their representatives, receive information and training relating to risks resulting from exposure to noise concerning, in particular:

  • the nature of such risks;
  • the measures taken to implement this Directive in order to eliminate or reduce to a minimum the risks from noise, including the circumstances in which the measures apply;
  • the exposure limit values and the exposure action values;
  • the results of the assessment and measurement of the noise carried out, together with an explanation of their significance and potential risks;
  • the correct use of hearing protectors;
  • why and how to detect and report signs of hearing damage;
  • the circumstances in which workers are entitled to health surveillance and the purpose of health surveillance;
  • safe working practices to minimise exposure to noise.

Consultation and participation of workers

Consultation and participation of workers and/or of their representatives must take place on the matters covered by this Directive, in particular:

  • the assessment of risks and identification of measures to be taken;
  • the actions aimed at eliminating or reducing risks arising from exposure to noise;
  • the choice of individual hearing protectors.


Health surveillance

When the noise levels present a health risk, Member States must adopt provisions to ensure the appropriate health surveillance of workers (preservation of the hearing function):

  • workers whose exposure exceeds the upper exposure action values have the right to have their hearing checked;
  • workers whose exposure to noise exceed the lower exposure action values have the right to preventive audiometric testing.

Member States must establish arrangements to ensure that individual health records are made and kept up to date for these workers. These records may be consulted at a later date and are accessible to the workers concerned.

Where, as a result of surveillance of the hearing function, a worker is found to have an identifiable hearing damage, a doctor shall assess whether the damage is likely to be the result of exposure to noise at work. If this is the case:

  • the worker must be informed by the doctor or other suitably qualified person of the result which relates to him or her personally.
  • the employer must review the risk assessment;
  • the employer must review the measures provided for to eliminate or reduce risks;
  • the employer must take into account the advice of the occupational health-care professional or other suitably qualified person in implementing any measures required to eliminate or reduce risk, including the possibility of assigning the worker to alternative work where there is no risk of further exposure;
  • the employer must arrange continued health surveillance and provide for a review of the health status of any other worker who has been similarly exposed.


In exceptional situations where, because of the nature of the work, the full and proper use of individual hearing protectors would be likely to cause greater risk to health or safety than not using such protectors, Member States may grant derogations from the provisions concerning personal protection and limitation of exposure.

Such derogations must be reviewed every four years and withdrawn as soon as the justifying circumstances no longer obtain.

Code of conduct

In the music and entertainment sectors, Member States may have recourse to a transitional period of up to a maximum of two years to prepare a code of conduct providing for practical guidelines to help workers and employers in these sectors to meet their legal obligations as laid down in this Directive.


Every five years Member States must provide a report to the Commission on the practical implementation of this Directive. On the basis of those reports, the Commission shall carry out an overall assessment.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2003/10/EC


For the music and entertainment sector: 15.02.2008
For personnel on board seagoing vessels: 15.02.2011

OJ L 42 of 15.02.2003

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2007/30/EC



OJ L 165 of 27.6.2007

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