Noise injury or hearing loss is the most common form of permanent disability in Australia. It can happen after years of being exposed to noise, or be caused by a one-off incident.
Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. A noisy workplace doesn’t have to be a fact of life, or ‘part of the job’. In many workplaces you can remove or reduce the noise — and therefore the risk of noise injury.
The risk of noise-related injury increases depending on how loud the noise is and how long the worker is exposed to it.
Who is at risk of noise-related injury?
Noise-related injuries are most common in the manufacturing and construction industries. Workers most at risk include:
- workers in trades
- machinery operators
As the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you must do all you can to reduce the risk of noise-related injury in your workplace, including:
- identifying noise hazards
- undertaking noise assessments
- using suitable control measures
- providing personal protective equipment to workers, and
- testing noise levels and providing audiometric testing for workers who must frequently wear personal hearing protection for their work.
The code of practice Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work guides you on how to do this. It also has a tool called a ‘noise ready reckoner’ to calculate workers’ exposure to noise.
Managing noise risks
The best way to control risk is to eliminate the noise completely. If you can’t do that, you should (in this order):
- change equipment to reduce noise
- put barriers between noise sources and workers
- limit the time a worker spends near a noise source
- add distance between noisy equipment and workers by using longer leads, hoses and extension cords which are appropriate to the task.
- use personal protective equipment, like earmuffs or earplugs.
Ways to keep noise levels low
- Buy the quietest machinery or equipment for the job. Check the noise level with the manufacturer or supplier before you buy.
- Change the way you do the job. For example, glue don’t hammer, weld don’t rivet, lower don’t drop.
- Reduce noise levels at the source. For example, fit silencers to exhausts, turn down the volume, change fan speeds.
- Isolate the source of the noise. For example, use barriers, remote controls or sound-proof covers to create distance between you and the noise source
- Reduce exposure levels. For example, restrict access to noisy areas, provide quiet areas for rest breaks, or limit time spent in noisy areas by rotating tasks.
- Make sure equipment and tools are properly maintained, as this can result in lower noise levels.