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Noise and vibration in the workplace


Noise that is capable of damaging hearing may cause other health effects such as stress, fatigue, hypersensitivity to noise, elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate.

Not only can this affect your everyday lifestyle, it will also interfere with your performance, slow your reaction times and affect communication at work, which could lead to injuries or incidents.

Once your precious sense of hearing is damaged or lost, it can never be regained.

By taking precautionary methods in the workplace persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) can ensure noise is eliminated where possible and prevent workers from gaining temporary or permanent hearing loss and damage.

The Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work: Code of Practice provides guidance on how noise affects hearing, how to identify and assess exposure to noise and how to control health and safety risks arising from hazardous noise.

Hearing damage or loss

Hearing damage and loss can either occur swiftly or over an extensive period of time.

Loud sounds can cause the hair cells of the inner ear to collapse and flatten temporarily, resulting in deafness. Depending on the noise level and length of exposure, the hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. On occasion, the temporary loss of hearing may even be accompanied by a ringing sensation known as tinnitus.

If high noise exposure is repeated over many years, the hair cells in the inner ear may also become permanently damaged, resulting in irreversible hearing loss.

There are even occasions where permanent hearing loss can occur immediately, for example if someone is exposed to very intense or explosive sounds like a gunshot or explosion. This type of damage is known as acoustic trauma. In some cases a very intense sound can actually puncture the eardrum.

However, hearing loss isn’t necessarily confined to the workplace. The use of personal music players, stereo units, loud concerts and frequent nightclubbing may cause hearing damage to both young and older people.

Safety solutions

To minimise the risks effectively, firstly conduct a walk-through inspection of your workplace to help determine:

  • sources of excessive, distracting or disruptive noise which make it difficult to hear a normal voice within one metre of a noise source
  • workers likely to be exposed to excessive noise
  • work activities that are noisy and may pose a risk to hearing
  • ways of reducing noise levels.

Taking action to eliminate the noise source is important. If you are unsure about the level of exposure or how to minimise the risk effectively, you should follow these steps:

  1. Within the workplace, keep noise levels below the exposure standard of 85 decibels (dB)(A) in an 8-hour day so that critical situations can still be communicated despite the noise.
  2. Substitute noisy machinery with quieter models, or ‘buy quiet’ when purchasing new or replacement equipment, which is a cost-effective way to control noise at the source.
  3. Introduce engineering controls to treat noise at its source or in its transmission path, such as using sound dampeners or silencers, noise barriers/partitions/screens and isolation.
  4. Introduce administrative controls, such as training and education, job rotation, job redesign or designing rosters, to reduce the number of workers exposed to noise.
  5. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) that is:
    • suitable for the nature of the work and the hazard, such as earmuffs and earplugs
    • comfortable to wear, and of a suitable size and fit
    • maintained, repaired or replaced when required
    • used or worn by workers who have been trained in its use and care.
  6. If workers are frequently required to wear PPE to reduce the risk of hearing loss, implement an audiometric testing regime and keep testing records.

Additional noise information

Other information to help you manage noise in the workplace includes:

Vibration

There is evidence that workers who are exposed to vibration and noise at the same time are more likely to suffer hearing loss than workers exposed to the same level of noise alone. Exposure to both vibration and noise is also understood to increase musculoskeletal problems.

Safe Work Australia has developed a series of guidance material on:

  • managing the risks associated with vibrating plant in the workplace, and
  • the measurement and assessment of workplace vibration exposures from vibrating plant.

Technical information is also provided on how exposures are to be measured and calculated.

You should use these guides if you are a worker or if you manage a worker who is exposed to or is likely to be exposed to vibration.

The guides for measuring and assessing vibration are targeted at people who, through training, qualification or experience, have acquired the knowledge and skills to carry out the task, for example occupational hygienists, ergonomists and other work health and safety professionals.