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Health and safety at work: exposure to noise

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Health and safety at work: exposure to noise


The Directive applies to activities in which workers are exposed to risks from noise as a result of their work.


It lays down minimum requirements for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety arising from exposure to noise, and in particular the risk to hearing.


In the workplace, the noise exposure limit values, which must not be exceeded, principally pertains to a daily or weekly exposure of 87 decibels (dB), taking into account any attenuation from hearing protection.

The exposure action values, the decibel levels at which an employer must take certain actions, are set at a daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB (lower value) and 85 dB (upper value).

The employer has a responsibility to assess and, if necessary, measure the levels of noise to which workers are exposed, giving particular attention to:

level, type and duration, including impulsive noise*,

the exposure limit value and the exposure action values,

effects on workers from particular risk groups,

effects from interactions between noise and work-related substances toxic to the ear, vibrations or warning signals and other safety-related sounds,

manufacturers' information on noise emission,

alternative equipment that could reduce noise,

noise beyond normal working hours,

information from health surveillance, and

availability of hearing protectors.

As far as possible the risk factors must be removed at source or reduced to a minimum, taking into account:

other working methods with less exposure,

appropriate equipment choice,

workplace design,

training, consultation and participation of the workers,

use of shields, enclosures, sound-absorbent coverings, dampening and isolation,

workplace and equipment maintenance, and

organisation of work, schedules and rest periods.

Under no circumstances may the exposure of the worker exceed the exposure limit values.

Workplaces exceeding the exposure action 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 action value.

Where noise levels present a health risk, EU countries must ensure the appropriate health surveillance of workers. Those who have been exposed to noise above the upper exposure action values have the right to have their hearing checked, while those whose exposure to noise is above the lower exposure action 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. If this is the case:

the worker must be informed,

the employer must review the risk assessment and measures to reduce risks,

the employer must take into account medical advice, including the possibility of re-assigning the worker, and

the employer must continue surveillance and review the health of any worker similarly exposed.


The Directive entered into force on 15 February 2003.


* Impulsive noise: high intensity noise of short duration, such as a hammer blow.


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)



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2003/10/EC


14.2.2006For the music and entertainment sector: 15.2.2008. For staff on board seagoing vessels: 15.2.2011

OJ L 42, 15.2.2003, pp. 38-44

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2007/30/EC



OJ L 165, 27.6.2007, pp. 21-24

Regulation (EC) No 1137/2008



OJ L 311, 21.11.2008, pp. 1-54

Successive amendments and changes to 2003/10/EC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

last update 02.10.2015