How can I reduce the noise from my woodworking machines to safe levels?

13 November 2012

Many woodworking machines give rise to noise levels above the legal limits. Employers have a duty under the Control of Noise At Work Regulations to carry out an assessment of the noise levels in the working area and identify any employees who are likely to be exposed to noise levels high enough to cause hearing damage.

The limits for noise exposure are a daily personal noise exposure of 87dB(A) and a peak sound pressure of 140 dB(A).

The first action level for noise is 80 dB(A), however, typical noise levels for woodworking machines where no noise reduction levels are taken can range from 97 dB(A) for beam saws and sanding machines, to 107 dB(A) for double end tenoners

By changing work activities, working practices or equipment substantial reductions in noise levels can be achieved.

• When purchasing a new machine consider the noise levels of each machine and select a low noise machine. The structure of the machine should be designed to minimise direct noise radiation and to reduce vibration transmission through the machine. Acoustic absorbents, shields or enclosures for control of unavoidable noise sources should be an integral part of machinery design

• Ensure that the most suitable blade and machine are used for the job, using the wrong machine or blade can produce more noise. Poorly adjusted saw guides can push noise levels up by 3 dB(A) and the use of an unnecessarily heavy gauge saw blade can produce a higher noise level

• Make sure that your maintenance schedule is followed; as well maintained machines tend to make less noise. Well maintained machines can produce idling levels in the region of 80-90 dB(A), but poorly maintained machines, which are otherwise virtually identical, may idle at levels as high as 110 dB(A)

• Erecting a barrier or noise enclosure or noise enclosure around a particular machine will reduce exposure of workers in the area to noise. Effective enclosures may be constructed from a variety of materials.  Home made enclosures can be as efficient as commercial supplied models and may cost much less. A well-constructed enclosure is capable of attenuating sounds by  10-15 dB(A).

Hearing protection should only be provided as a last resort.  You must try and reduce the noise level before using hearing protection as the only control measure.

At the first action level of 80 dB(A), employees must be provided with hearing protection at their request, for example, ear plugs and ear defenders.

At the second action level, which is 85dB(A), the exposure of employees to noise must be reduced, as far as reasonably practicable, without the use of hearing protection.  If it cannot be reduced below this level then hearing protection must be provided and reasonable steps taken to ensure that it is used

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