About the problem
Thousands of ACT workers risk their hearing every day in noisy workplaces. Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). While excessive noise remains a significant issue in many workplaces, it can be controlled.
What is Noise?
Noise in an occupational setting is regarded as unwanted or damaging sound.
The level of noise in a workplace is a problem when it has the potential to damage workers’ hearing.
The ACT's noise exposure standard, as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (section 56(1), is a level of 85 decibels (A-weighted) 'averaged' over an eight-hour period, and a peak level of 140 decibels (c-weighted).
The standard relates to noise measured at the worker's ear.
What injuries can noise cause?
Noise-induced hearing loss is an irreversible condition that can have a terrible impact on a person’s life.
If you are exposed to loud noise continually over a period of time, the nerve receptors in your inner ear may eventually die, and once damage occurs it cannot be repaired.
Hearing loss can also result from exposure to sudden loud noises, such as explosions, gun shots or heavy hammering. These types of noises are commonly referred to as ‘impact’ noises and, if loud enough, can cause immediate, permanent damage.
Permanent hearing loss may also be accompanied by tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
Your legal duties
New regulations for workplace health and safety came into effect on 1 January 2012. These were similar to the provisions in place under the previous legislation.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 contain specific requirements for the control of noise that is above the exposure standard. These obligations are addressed in Division 1 (Sections 56 to 59) of the regulation.
Section 59 Noise management – duties of designers etc
This section provides that a person in control of the design, manufacture, import or supply of plant that may emit an unsafe level of noise must ensure that the plant is designed and constructed so that the noise emitted by the plant is as low as reasonably practicable, when installed and used in a reasonable way.
This section also provides that a person in control of the design, manufacture, import or supply of plant commits a strict liability offence if plant that may emit an unsafe level of noise is supplied to a person, and, the duty holders fails to provide that person with information about the noise emitted by the plant and ways to keep the noise to the lowest level that it is reasonably practicable to achieve.
Section 57 Noise management – duties of person conducting business or undertaking
This section provides that a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) at a workplace commits a strict liability offence if the person does not manage the risks to health and safety relating to the loss of hearing from noise in accordance with Part 3.1 of the Regulation.
Some ways of managing the risks can include: implementing engineering noise controls to reduce the noise level, implement administrative noise controls to reduce the noise to which the worker is exposed, and giving the worker personal hearing protectors that meet the requirements of AS/NZS 1270 and have been selected according to the procedures stated in AS/NZS 1269.3.
PCBUs are required to provide audiometric testing for workers by 1 January 2013, and then at least every two years after that.
A PCBU commits a strict liability offence if noise levels at the workplace exceed the exposure standards for noise.
Noise management – duties of workers
Workers must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and comply, so far as reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction given. So if noise control measures are put in place at a workplace under this regulation and the worker intentionally does not comply with the measures at the workplace, as far as reasonably practicable, they commit an offence.
The WHS Act also provides that a worker commits an offence if the worker is given personal hearing protection as a noise control measure for use at work, is given information and training about the protectors in accordance with AS/NZS 1269, and, they do not use the protection, as far as reasonably practicable.
How To Comply
There are several solutions for eliminating or limiting noise exposure which can be readily implemented.
But It is not enough to simply eliminate the obvious risks – by law PCBUs are responsible for controlling, as far as is reasonably practicable, all potential safety hazards in their workplace.
Where solutions are not obvious, PCBUs should use a process to help them determine the most effective control measures for the noise risks they find in their workplace. More on Risk Management
Workers’ expertise can make a significant contribution to improving workplace health and safety.
Regular, proactive consultation can help identify issues in the workplace and build a strong commitment to health and safety by including all views in the decision-making process.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, PCBUs must consult with workers when identifying and assessing hazards or risks associated with exposure to excessive noise, and making decisions about risk control.
Workers includes independent contractors (and any workers of the independent contractor(s) who perform work which the PCBU has, or should have, control over.
If workers are represented by Health and Safety Representatives, the consultation must involve those representatives.
More on Consultation
The noise level in a workplace is considered harmful to health if it exceeds the exposure standard, which refers to an average noise level of 85 decibels (A-weighted) over an eight-hour period, and a maximum of 140 decibels (C-weighted).
As an indicator, some examples of noise levels include:
There is a chance that the exposure standard may be exceeded if:
If you’re not sure that the standard is being exceeded, you must determine workers' exposure to noise. You could do this by taking some spot noise measurements or getting a noise specialist to come in and help you.
The more complex the situation, the more knowledgeable and experienced the person doing the assessment needs to be. In some cases, such as when there are multiple sources of noise, the assessment will be more difficult, and hiring an experienced consultant may be the best approach.
The effect of hearing protectors must not be taken into account in determining workers' exposure to noise.
You can significantly decrease the risk of noise injury in your workplace by following the order of the control measures below. The list is set out with the most effective approaches first. Only use a less effective approach if it is not reasonably practicable to use a more effective one. In many instances, a combination of approaches will result in the best solution. The following is an example of some choices in relation to noise.
1. Eliminate the cause of the noise
The most effective measure is to remove the source of the noise, so you should always try to do this first.
Example: Get rid of noisy plant
2. Substitute quieter plant or processes, or use engineering measures.
If the source of the noise can't be eliminated, consider using quieter equipment or processes, or engineering controls.
Example: Purchase quieter equipment (e.g. quiet compressor) or use a quieter process (e.g. welding instead of riveting in large scale construction).
Introduce engineering controls to:
3. Use administrative controls
If you can’t change the equipment or processes, try to change the way the work is done.
Example: Position noise sources further away from workers, minimise the number of workers working in noisy areas or do noisy work out of normal working hours. Job rotation can also help to limit workers’ exposure to noise.
4. Provide hearing protectors
If the above measures do not totally solve the problem, and they have been applied as far as practicable, then hearing protectors must be used to ensure that workers' exposure to noise does not exceed the standard.
It’s important to review your risk controls regularly to ensure they are implemented correctly and to monitor their effectiveness.
You need to review(and, where necessary, revise) your risk controls whenever changes are made to the workplace that could affect noise levels, such as changes to the way work is done or to the equipment used.
A review is also necessary if there is a report of hearing loss in the workplace, if you become aware of any new information about any noise levels, or if a Work Safety Representative requests one.
Workers and Health and Safety Representatives must be consulted when reviewing risk controls.