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COVER STORY ON THE RIGHT LEVEL


James Tingay, Group Marketing Manager, Cirrus Research Ltd, discusses how the growing trend in using apps to monitor noise in the workplace could prove a costly decision.


As technology continues to impact across the H&S sector, one area that is undergoing a veritable invasion is around the Noise at Work.


Awareness surrounding noise in the workplace has never been higher and claims for NIHL (Noise Induced Hearing Loss) have been a contentious issue for most of this decade due to increased publicity and scrutiny by personal injury lawyers.


The range of instrumentation and software applications can be mind boggling but there has been a recent development of mobile and tablet-based apps that some firms believe are a cheap or even free alternative to buying or renting standard compliant Sound Level Meters.


To put this issue into context, a report out recently found that, in terms of disease-related claims, there was a dramatic rise, with headline figures showing a rise of 139% between 2011 and 2014 from 18,570 claims to 44,158. 2015 saw a further 8% increase in year-on-year claims.


Despite this background and risk of NIHL prosecution, the availability and application of phone-based apps to provide noise measurement functions have proliferated in recent months. They were initially marketed at anyone who was having ‘noisy neighbour’ issues and wanted ‘proof’ of the problem. However, evidence now shows that some firms are using these apps in the workplace, perhaps without the true understanding of their limitations.


Some of these apps have been designed to meet compliance with the relevant instrumentation standards when used with a suitable external microphone, and the vast majority are available as free downloads from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.


However, if combined with the wide range of devices available, there is potential for significant variations in the accuracy, function and performance of the measurement chain.


A significant portion of the noise measurement equipment sold in the UK and overseas is used for compliance with regulations such as the Control of Noise at Work (2005).


Within Noise at Work, users often used apps as a way of making an initial assessment of noise levels or to give other stakeholders a simple way to raise concerns about noise levels. The question of how accurate a noise


16


Cirrus Research carried out its own survey among its customers to see if they are using any apps:


Are you or have you used a noise measurement app for work purposes?


Noise at Work Environmental


Yes No


40% 60% 17% 73%


measurement app could be using an internal microphone has been discussed at length. One paper showed that using the same app across a number of different devices and in a controlled environment gave differences of between -28dB(A) and +10dB(A) when compared to a reference sound level meter.


The most significant differences were shown when the noise contained a high proportion of low frequency content or where the measured noise contained a significant impulsive component. It’s clear from this data that the more impulsive content, the larger the difference from the reference measurement can be.


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