Too much noise at work can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss, or tinnitus – ringing in the ears. Hearing damage can occur from extended exposure to noise, or from a sudden explosive sound.
Over the past four years more than 10,000 workers have been affected by noise-related injuries in NSW workplaces, with more than 90 per cent left permanently disabled.
Noise-related injuries are most common in the mining industry and in electricity, gas, water and waste services
There are specific laws about controlling the risk of noise in the workplace. Here we summarise those laws and give you some practical tips.
Manage the risks
You must manage the risks of getting hearing loss from noise in the workplace.
Ensure appropriate noise levels
Make sure noise levels do not go above:
- an average exposure level of 85 decibels over an eight-hour period (the relationship between noise level and exposure time is logarithmic - for every three-decibel increase in noise, the exposure time needs to be halved in order not to exceed the exposure level)
- peak noise levels no greater than 140 decibels at any time during the day.
Ideally, you should keep noise levels below:
- 50 decibels if your work requires high concentration or effortless conversation
- 70 decibels if your work is routine, fast-paced and demands attentiveness, or if it is important to carry on conversations.
Here are six easy ways to help you keep noise levels low:
- Buy the quietest plant and machinery for the job – and always ask the manufacturer/supplier for information about noise levels.
- Change the way you do the job – eg glue don’t hammer, weld don’t rivet, lower don’t drop.
- Reduce noise levels at the source – eg fit silencers to exhausts, turn down the volume, change fan speeds.
- Isolate the source of the noise – eg use barriers, remote controls or sound-proof covers.
- Reduce exposure levels – eg restrict access to noisy areas, provide quiet areas for rest breaks, limit time spent in noisy areas.
- Use personal hearing protection, but only as a last resort.
Give audiometric testing to workers
If any of your workers use personal hearing protection frequently, best practice recommends audiometric testing within three months of starting work – and at least every two years.
For designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers
Control risks and provide information
Designers of plant must ensure the plant emits as little noise as possible.
Together with the design specifications, information must be provided about:
- the noise emission values
- operating the plant to measure noise emissions
- how noise emissions were measured.
The manufacturer must do likewise during and after the manufacturing process – ie ensure the plant emits as little noise as possible and provide all necessary information.
Importers and suppliers must also give this information to their workers and customers.
For the specific laws about controlling the risk of noise in the workplace, see clauses 56 – 59 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.
There are also general work health and safety laws that will apply to you in any situation, including when working in a noisy environment.
For practical information about managing risks, the effects of noise, and the role of designers, manufacturers, suppliers, importers and installers of plant and equipment, see the Code of practice for managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work. It includes a hazard identification checklist, a ready reckoner of different sound levels, and examples of control measures.