Hazardous noise in workplaces has the capability to disrupt clear hearing and make it difficult to hear sounds essential for working safely onsite, such as instructions or warning signals.

Over time it can also permanently damage hearing and result in severe deafness.

As an employer you have a have a duty of care to exercise due diligence to ensure that your organisation complies with the current Workplace Health and Safety Act and Regulations. This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure that all work areas and worksites have and uses appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks that arise from noise1.

Appropriate levels of noise exposure are determined based on the individual, environment and exposure i.e. the decibel levels and how long workers are continuously exposed to it. WHS regulations set the exposure standard for noise at 85dB, which means organisations, should reasonably keep noise lower than this where achievable1.

To contextualise 85dB, normal conversation is typically around 60dB, loud conversation 70dB. An average lawn mower is typically 90dB and a chainsaw around 110dB.

Identifying levels of hazardous noise in a workplace can be achieved as simply as conducting a risk assessment in the workplace with your employees and health and safety team.

Noise Risk Assessment:

  1. Identifying workplace noise and its source
  2. Assessing resulting risks
  3. Choose appropriate control measures
  4. Implement control measures
  5. Monitor and review effectiveness of measures

Where consistent and variable noise exposure is identified over a work shift, onsite measurement may be required. Onsite testing is not in itself a protective mechanism; it is an element of a comprehensive noise management program.

There are a variety of noise measurement devices on the market, and organisations that can perform the required measurements. The important elements to remember when conducting onsite noise measurement is that the test is conducted during a typical working shift and measures the different tasks and times throughout the shift to get a comprehensive understanding of the noise within the site.

Experienced Occupational and Environmental Physicians can work with employers to develop and conduct a comprehensive noise management program and introduce control measures. They are experienced at identifying workplace hazards and in particular those environments and processes that may be unwittingly contributing to hazardous noise creation.

Engineering and administrative controls often need to be refreshed during this process. It may even be as simple as conducting a job task analysis to see if there a different way of doing the job, with less noise, for the same result.


Audiometry: Best Practice

A reference audiogram is good practice to form a baseline when testing for occupational noise exposure. Reference audiometry requires 16 hours of ‘quiet time’ (no exposure to noise above normal conversation i.e. 85dB) conducted before a worker starts working in a noisy area, or before they begin employment with an organisation.

Monitoring Audiograms completed regularly over the course of the employment can then be used to identify possible hearing loss at any early stage and provide significant information to employers on the effectiveness of their risk management processes.

For more information on onsite audiometry contact us on ssu@sonichealthplus.com.au

References

1. Safe Work Australia: Managing Noise And Preventing Hearing Loss At Work Code Of Practice, December 2011.

Dr David Jones
MSc, MB ChB, MFOM (RCP)(UK), Fellow AFOEM (RACP)Regional Medical Officer

Dr Jones is an experienced occupational physician, who has been in specialist practice for over 25 years. He is currently an Occupational and Environmental Physician with Sonic HealthPlus, providing a range of consulting services for corporate and government clients.

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