Noise - your legal obligations
Information about the legal obligations a PCBU (employer or a business) has to reducing or eliminating the impact of noise on workers and others in the workplace.
There are specific laws that require a person conducting a business or undertaking (the PCBU) - that is, an employer or a business - to control the risk of exposure to noise in the workplace that exceeds the exposure standard for noise. Here is a summary of those laws.
There are two exposure standards for exposure to hazardous noise.
Ensure noise levels do not exceed:
a) a total (continuous) noise level that exceeds 85 dB(A) when averaged over an 8-hour period (known as LAeq,8h or 8 hour equivalent noise level).
The relationship between noise level and exposure time that is measured in a logarithmic scale – where every 3dB(A) increase in noise doubles the risk of exposure to hearing loss; and
b) an instantaneous sound that exceeds a peak noise level of 140 dB(C) at any time during the day.
Ideally, you should keep noise levels below:
- 50 dB(A) if the work requires high concentration or effortless conversation
- 70 dB(A) if the work is routine, fast-paced and demands attentiveness, or if it is important to carry on conversations.
Manage the risks
You must manage the risks of workers developing hearing loss from exposure to hazardous noise in the workplace, focusing on the hierarchy of controls.
This means you must try to eliminate and reduce, so far as is reasonably practicable, any health and safety risks in the workplace – including those associated with exposure to hazardous noise.
Here are six easy ways to help you keep noise levels low:
- buy quiet – look for the quietest plant and machinery for the job – ask the manufacturer/supplier for information about noise levels
- change the way you do the job – e.g. glue don’t hammer, weld don’t rivet, lower don’t drop
- reduce noise levels at the source – e.g. fit suppressors to exhausts, turn down the volume, change fan speeds
- isolate the source of the noise – e.g. use barriers, remote controls or sound-proof covers
- reduce exposure levels – e.g. 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.
Audiometric testing for workers
Audiometric testing is recommended for workers who frequently use personal hearing protection to protect them from hazardous noise. It can assist in identifying if a workers hearing is deteriorating.
The Code of Practice for managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work recommends initial testing within three months of starting work – with follow-up testing at least every two years.
NOTE: SafeWork NSW has issued a further two-year state-wide exemption from this requirement clause 58(2). This exemption (PDF 783kb) is granted until 31 December 2020, however:
- the granting of this exemption does not lessen your legislative duties to control hazardous noise, and
- notwithstanding the exemption, SafeWork NSW considers audiometric testing a very valuable tool to assist you monitor the effectiveness of the noise controls you have implemented to protect your workers from hearing loss – particularly in high-risk industry sectors.
Duties for designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers
Designers and manufacturers 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.
Importers and suppliers must also give this information to their workers and customers.
Maintenance and review
You must maintain the control measure so that it remains effective, fit for purpose, suitable for the nature and duration of the work, and is installed, set up and used correctly.
You must also review and revise the control measure implemented as necessary including before a change occurs at the workplace that is likely to create a new or different risk, a new hazard or risk has been identified or when requested by a health and safety representative.
Technical help and resources
- a hazard identification checklist
- a ready reckoner of different sound levels
- examples of control measures.