In future, noise and vibration at the workplace will be subject to new limit values. The central statutory accident insurance associations draw attention to this fact with reference to the new regulation governing noise and vibration. The regulation, which transposes two EU directives, was adopted by the German cabinet on 28 February 2007. It will come into force in March with publication in the Federal Law Gazette. The purpose of the regulation is to improve the protection of employees at work against risks to their health and safety caused by noise or vibration. As OH&S institutions, the statutory accident insurance institutions have the function of advising the companies on implementation of the new regulation.
Where noise is generated, the action values for prevention measures have been reduced by 5 dB(A) compared to the former accident prevention regulation governing noise. High-noise areas for example are now to be marked as such from an average daily noise impact of 85 dB(A) upwards. In areas in which the noise level exceeds 85 dB(A), the employer is obliged to draw up and implement a programme of technical and organizational measures in order to reduce the noise exposure. A technical measure is for example the encapsulation of loud machines; an organizational measure may for example involve putting time or distance between loud and quiet working areas. Personal protective equipment, such as hearing protectors, are to be provided as a final measure.
The regulation sets out measures for vibration prevention. The employer must take these measures when the vibration values reach or exceed the specified action values or exposure limit values. The accident insurance institutions estimate that 4 to 5 million employees are exposed at work to noise presenting a risk to their hearing. Estimates also show 1.5 to 2 million employees to be affected by hand-arm vibration, and 600,000 by whole-body vibration.
Since the 1970s, the prevention of noise at the workplace has been a focus of the health and safety of workers at work. Despite considerable successes, occupational deafness remains one of the most frequent occupational diseases in Germany; the statutory accident insurance institutions formally recognize some 6,000 such cases of occupational disease each year. Vibration may lead to disorders of the musculoskeletal system (spine, joints in the hands and arms) and circulatory disorders in the hands. High occupational vibration exposure over many years may give rise to corresponding occupational diseases.