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Physical Agents (Noise) Directive 2003/10/EC

On the 6 February 2003 the European Parliament issued the new Physical Agents (Noise) Directive 2003/10/EC. This repeals the existing Noise at Work Regulations 1989 and must now be complied with.

The aim of the regulations is to reduce the risk of hearing damage for employees, requiring the reduction of the noise at source where possible and the provision of hearing protection were necessary.

The noise action levels are based on a worker's daily personal exposure level or LEP,d. You may also see this referred to as the LEX,8h. To calculate the LEP,d you need a suitable sound level meter. Please see the notes later in this document for more information.

Related Article: Choosing a Sound Level Meter for Noise at Work

Action Level Level Action
Lower Action Level LEP,d = 80 dB(A)
Peak = 135 dB(C)
Make individual hearing protectors available to workers. Training and information on the risk of hearing damage and on hearing protection must be given to workers.
Upper Action Level LEP,d = 85 dB(A)
Peak = 137 dB(C)
Reduce the noise at source where reasonably practicable. Provide suitable hearing protectors and ensure that they are worn. Employees must be provided with information and training about the use of the protectors.
Exposure Limit LEP,d = 87 dB(A)
Peak = 140 dB(C)
Under no circumstances shall the exposure of the worker (taking into account hearing protection worn) exceed these limits.

Which Sound Level Meter?

Please also see our Choosing a Sound Level Meter for Noise at Work for more detailed guidance.

The HSE guidance on the Noise at Work Regulations booklet Controlling Noise at Work states that ...the sound level meter should be an integrating sound level meter..." . Although some choose to use a non-integrating meter where the sound pressure level is steady for long periods, most professionals would recommend the use of an integrating sound level meter as this takes away any uncertainty as to what "steady for long periods" means and deals perfectly with the usual situation of varying noise levels.

The sound level meter should be capable of measuring:

  • A weighted Leq, or LAeq
  • C weighted maximum Peak to above 140 dB(C)

You must also have a suitable sound calibrator for the sound level meter. This is used to check the correct operation of the meter before and after making any measurements.

The guidance also states that you should use at least a Type 2 or Class 2 sound level meter to BS EN ISO 61672-1:2003 or BS EN 60804:2001. You can choose the more accurate Class 1 if you prefer or if you have other measurements that demand the higher grade. You should never use a meter that does not meet these standards to at least Class 2 as it will not satisfy the regulatory authorities.

Noise Dosimeter or Personal Sound Exposure Meter (PSEM)

These are small devices, similar to sound level meters, that you attach to the worker at the start of the working shift and leave it measuring that person's exposure until the end of the shift. This approach is ideal when the worker is highly mobile or working in a place where access for noise measurement is difficult.

A Dosimeter or PSEM may not always give a reading that is as accurate as a sound level meter due to the mounting of the microphone on certain types of dosimeter and the uncontrolled nature of the measurements. However, any errors tend to increase the exposure level measured, which is far better than getting false low levels. The more modern dosimeters that do not require the microphone to be clipped to the worker's lapel also reduce these errors.

Suitable Sound Level Meters and Noise Dosimeters

Although we have a very large range of meters available that can be used for this application, the instruments that follow are the ones that we recommend and are also the most cost effective.

All of these instruments are available with a sound calibrator. Please visit the product pages for more information and pricing details.

For a complete list please visit our Noise at Work product page, where you will find additional items such as the Noise Warning Sign.

Instrument Calibration and Calibration Certificates

Even though you must have a sound calibrator, the regulations also demand that the sound level meter (and calibrator) are sent to a suitably equipped laboratory for testing and calibration at least every two years. A new instrument should always be provided with a calibration certificate.

Further Information on Noise at Work

If you want any advice on the selection of the right sound level meter then please just call on 0845 680 0312 or send an email to us at

Recommended Reading

For anybody involved in occupational noise measurements in the UK, the HSE's book Controlling Noise at Work is essential reading. It covers all aspects of the subject, from assessing the risk and reducing the noise to the provision of suitable hearing protectors. This book is available from HSE Books (Tel. 01787 881165) and is reference L108 - Controlling Noise at Work.

There are a number of very useful (and free) HSE leaflets that can be downloaded from