Noise in the workplace: Know the risks
Noise can effect people’s hearing, sometimes temporarily — and sometimes permanently. As an employer, the health and safety of staff, volunteers, contractors and visitors to your facility is priority number one. A crucial part of that is understanding the risk of exposure to noise in your workplace, and how to manage it.
Noise can impact the nerve cells in the inner ear, resulting in the temporary reduction of hearing. Usually, under quiet conditions, this type of temporary hearing loss sees recovery in 24 hours. However, repeated exposure to loud noise over time can cause permanent injury, reducing a person’s ability to hear high-pitch sounds.1
Safe Work Australia estimates that between 28-32% of Australian workers are in an environment where they’re exposed to loud noise.2 For the safety of their employees, workplaces must effectively manage this risk.
In the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations, workers cannot be exposed to more than 85 decibels over an eight hour work day. Also, they must not be exposed to peak noises of greater than 140 decibels. The risk of noise in the workplace must be eliminated or minimised as far as reasonably practicable.3
In Australia from 2001 to 2015 there were, on average, 4,700 claims for workplace-related hearing loss per year. Of these claims, 35% were from the manufacturing industry and 18% from construction.4
Identifying the risk
Your staff know their workplace better than anyone. Consult with them about noise exposure, and the best ways to eliminate and minimise these risks. Walk around the workplace, identifying which tasks produce loud noise on a regular basis.
You should also identify the use of any ototoxic substances, such as certain solvents, asphyxiants, metals and metal compounds. In isolation and in conjunction with exposure to loud noise, these may impact hearing.5 In these instances, further control measures should be investigated and adopted.
Employers should conduct a noise determination assessment if they’re not sure whether their employees’ exposure exceeds WHS regulations. These assessments and noise monitoring should be conducted by a suitably qualified technician, who can assist in highlighting the noise levels of specific activities and machinery in the workplace. Guidance on such assessments can be found in Australian Standards/New Zealand Standards 1269.2: Occupational noise management measurement and assessment of noise emission and exposure.
Equipment manufacturers should provide information on control measures, to minimise the exposure to noise from their equipment and information on how to best maintain machinery to reduce noise levels.
Managing the risk
If you can, eliminate the need for noisy equipment and machinery.
Substitute or adopt engineering controls to reduce noise. Consider whether quieter equipment can be used, or existing equipment can be modified.
When selecting new equipment ask manufacturers and suppliers for sound power level data, this is a measure in decibels of sound energy for the equipment.
Consider administrative controls, such as rotating staff between noisy and quieter tasks.
Provide personal protective equipment such as hearing protection. If employees need hearing protection, then regular audiometric testing must be conducted. The selection of hearing protection should consider the nature, level and duration of the noise. Avoid creating other hazards from over protection, such as making important warning alarms inaudible. Hearing protection should comply with Australian Standards/New Zealand Standard 1270 Acoustics – hearing protectors. Training in the correct use of hearing protection, and signage indicating the areas in which hearing protection is required, are also necessary.
Regularly review your methods for managing noise exposure. Ensure that you’re finding the best solutions for the safety of your staff, contractors and visitors.
GIO can offer Workers Compensation Insurance for businesses in WA, NT, ACT and TAS. Complimentary training courses are available for GIO customers to help businesses prevent workplace injuries and reduce associated claims costs. Customers also have access to a wide range of discounted training courses provided through our partnership with National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA). For more information on the training courses or if you have any risk management queries, please get in touch.
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Insurance issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as GIO. In NSW, GIO manages claims as agent for the Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer ABN 83 564 379 108, also known as icare workers insurance. The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.