Noise in the workplace

Noise is unavoidable in many working environments. Hazardous noise can destroy the ability to hear clearly and can make it more difficult to hear sounds necessary for working safely such as instructions or warning signals.

What are the effects from excessive noise?

  • Health risks – High level noise may initially cause dull hearing and ringing in the ears. Regular exposure to high level noise may cause loss of hearing and other adverse health effects. Low level noise can interfere with concentration on activities. It can cause the same stress and adverse health effects as high level noise
  • Long term hearing loss – Hearing loss gradually happens over a number of years and can remain unnoticed. It is slow and painless and permanent but it can be prevented.
  • Immediate hearing loss – This can be caused by exposure to impulsive noise eg firearms, powered nail guns and stamping presses. The hair cells within the inner ear are destroyed and do not grow back.
  • Noise induced hearing loss – The ability to hear high pitched sounds is greatly decreased with exposure to too much noise. People with noise induced hearing loss often complain that they can hear someone talking but cannot understand them as they can no longer hear high pitched letters like F,S,T, K C

Who has health and safety duties relating to noise?

  • A person conducting business has the primary duty under the WHS act to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from business. The person has more specific obligations under WHS regulations to manage risk of hearing loss associated with noise in the workplace, including ensuring that the noise the worker is exposed to does not exceed the exposure standard for noise.
  • Designers, manufactures, importers, suppliers and installers of plants or structures that could be used for work must be ensure that the plant or structure is without risks to health and safety. They must ensure that it is designed and manufactured so that the noise emission is as low as reasonably practicable.
  • Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that they do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to health and safety in the workplace. For example if personal hearing protectors are provided by the person conducting the business, the worker must use them in accordance with the information.

The Code of Practice for Managing Noise and Hearing Loss at work is an approved code of practice under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.