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Mitigating Workplace Noise: Strategies for a Quieter Workspace 

24/05/2024by admin0Read: 8 minutes

Workplace noise goes beyond being a mere inconvenience; it can profoundly impact the overall well-being and efficiency of an organisation’s workforce. Hence, it is important to focus on how to reduce workplace noise and safeguard employee health.

Extensive research has revealed that elevated noise levels can lead to heightened stress, increased fatigue, and diminished focus, ultimately resulting in reduced productivity and job satisfaction.

By proactively addressing workplace noise, organisations can establish a healthier and more effective work setting. This can not only garner appreciation from employees for improved conditions but also translate into enhanced productivity and heightened employee contentment.

Whether it entails investing in noise-cancelling headphones, designating quiet zones, or implementing soundproofing solutions, there exist numerous strategies to efficiently curtail workplace noise.

Our exclusive blog provides robust strategies to reduce workplace noise outlining Safe Work Australia guidelines.

Furthermore, we have furnished practical advice and remedies to assist organisations in forging a tranquil and productive work environment.

Industries and Workers at Risk of Noise-Related Injury

Hearing-related injuries are prevalent in sectors like manufacturing and construction, impacting various job roles such as technicians, trade workers, machinery operators, drivers, and labourers. Additionally, exposure to certain ototoxic chemicals can contribute to hearing loss. Workers dealing with both noise and ototoxic substances face a higher risk of hearing impairment. In cases where such exposure occurs, the noise exposure standard is lowered from 85 decibels to 80 decibels or less, emphasising the importance of safeguarding employees in these high-risk environments.

Work activities that combine ototoxic substances and noise include:

  1. manufacturing
  2. construction
  3. painting
  4. printing, and
  5. furniture making.

Noise Assessments 

The initial phase in risk mitigation involves the identification, assessment, and evaluation of potential hazards.

When a workplace involves a single noise source exceeding 85 decibels, conducting a noise assessment can be relatively straightforward. However, if noise levels vary, it might necessitate engaging a qualified individual like an experienced Occupational Hygienist to perform the assessment.

This noise assessment serves several crucial purposes:

1) Identifying Workers at Risk: It helps pinpoint employees susceptible to hearing impairment.

2) Analysing Noise Sources: By determining which sources and processes pose risks, you can focus your mitigation efforts effectively.

3) Evaluating Existing Controls: It ensures that current control measures are effective.

4) Proposing New Controls: The assessment identifies additional control measures to implement for enhanced safety.

By rigorously conducting noise assessments, organisations can proactively safeguard their employees’ hearing health and mitigate potential risks.

Managing Noise Risks 

Controlling the risk of exposure to high levels of noise is essential, and one of the best ways to do that is by eliminating the noise completely.

However, if that’s not possible, the model WHS Regulations recommend taking the following measures:

  1. Modify equipment to reduce noise.
  2. Place barriers between noise sources and workers.
  3. Limit the time workers spend near a noise source.
  4. Use longer leads, hoses, and extension cords to create more distance between noisy equipment and workers.
  5. Use personal protective equipment, such as earmuffs or earplugs.

By implementing these measures, you can minimise the risk of harm caused by noise exposure in the workplace.

Mitigation of Noise Hazards and Control Measures 

Employers, businesses, and other PCBUs bear the responsibility of proficiently mitigating the risks linked to hazardous noise exposure. This commitment not only safeguards workers from the perils of hearing impairment, encompassing both gradual and immediate effects, as well as associated conditions like tinnitus but also contributes to establishing a workplace that fosters reduced stress and heightened productivity.

The foundation of effective control measures lies in the comprehensive identification of all potential sources of risk.

The standard noise mitigation and control strategies, as outlined in the guide framed by Safe Work Australia include the following:

1) Elimination of Hazards:

Minimising workplace hazards during the initial design and planning stages of new or renovated facilities is not only more cost-effective but also more feasible than addressing them later when risks have materialised. Therefore, it is crucial for PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) and building designers to collaborate closely, integrating noise control measures and striving to create the quietest possible workplace.

To achieve this, it’s essential to follow the hierarchy of controls by considering the following:

a) Automation:

Incorporating fully automated machinery and equipment capable of mechanical or remote operation to minimise hazardous noise during work processes.

b) Strategic Placement:

Determining optimal locations for noisy machinery, equipment, and work processes while considering factors like building reverberation and layout. Grouping machinery and work areas with similar noise levels is advisable.

c) Equipment Selection:

Carefully select a plant and machinery based on the type of noise they generate (continuous, impact, intermittent, etc.) and their noise levels. Prioritise items with lower noise exposure levels, avoiding impact noise whenever reasonably possible.

d) Acoustic Design:

Implementing acoustic treatments for noisy areas, such as covering ceilings and walls with sound-absorbing materials and incorporating floating floors.

e) Construction Considerations:

Utilising flexible construction joints as building elements and designing walls, floors, windows, and doors with the necessary sound transmission loss capabilities.

By adhering to these principles and collaborating effectively, businesses and designers can proactively create workplaces with minimised noise hazards and enhance overall safety.

2) Isolation of Hazards:

Isolation of hazards encompasses various measures to effectively isolate workers from noise sources, including:

a) Control Room Installation:

Establishing dedicated control rooms to isolate workers from noisy environments.

b) Sound Isolation Booths:

Installing sound isolation booths to provide a secluded workspace.

c) Remote-Controlled Equipment:

Utilising remote-controlled equipment to allow operation from a distance, reducing direct exposure to noise.

d) Enclosed Cabins on Mobile Equipment:

Incorporate enclosed cabins on mobile equipment to shield operators from noise sources.

e) Separation of Work Areas:

Creating a clear separation between quiet and noisy areas within the workplace. Low-noise tasks like office work, packaging, cleaning, maintenance, and repair should be conducted in designated low-noise zones.

Buffer Zones and Sound-Proof Barriers:

Implement buffer zones, sound-proof barriers, and enclosures as additional measures to isolate noise and protect workers.

3) Engineering Controls

Engineering controls encompass various measures to mitigate noise hazards, including:

a) Sound Insulation and Dampening:

Installing materials designed to absorb and reduce noise levels effectively.

b) Noise Suppressors:

Fitting equipment with noise suppressors to minimise their sound output.

c) Vibration Stabilisation:

Utilising vibration stabilising pads to reduce the transmission of vibrations and subsequent noise.

d) Sound-Proofing Enclosures:

Erecting sound-proof partial enclosures, barriers, shields, or noise-cancelling curtains to contain and mitigate noise.

e) Acoustic Baffles:

Installing acoustic baffles, and in cases involving extensive surface areas, opt for a cost-effective spray-on treatment.

f) Process and Design Changes:

Modifying work processes or designs to minimise noise generation, such as substituting hammers with bending machines or using controlled lowering methods instead of dropping materials. Reducing drop heights and incorporating absorbent materials in landing areas can further reduce noise.

g) Equipment Selection:

Opting for mains-powered electrical equipment over noisy diesel generators and using laser cutting in place of noisy grinding or punching.

h) Demolition Techniques:

Implementing quieter hydraulic breaking or bursting techniques in lieu of pneumatic impact breaking methods during demolition.

i) Piling Methods:

Choosing quieter bored piling over louder hammered piling techniques.

j) Volume and Fan Speed Adjustments:

Lowering the volume and adjusting fan speeds where applicable to reduce noise emissions.

k) Crane Configuration:

Enhancing crane configuration and storage arrangements to minimise noise generation.

l) Sound-Lining for Equipment:

Lining steel trestles, benches, product bins, and scrap bins with wear-resistant rubber (note: alternative earthing arrangements may be necessary).

m) Durable Rubber Matting:

Place workpieces on durable rubber mats instead of hard benches or floors to absorb noise.

n) Guarding Enhancements:

Extending guarding and lining it with acoustic-dampening materials wherever feasible.

o) Quiet Rest Areas:

Provide quiet rooms for rest breaks that are fully enclosed with well-sealed doors and windows to reduce background noise levels to the greatest extent possible.

4) Administrative Controls

In the hierarchy of controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE) are considered the least effective due to their inherent limitations include the following:

1) They do not eliminate hazardous noise at its source or in its path, unlike higher-level controls.

2) They rely on worker compliance and behaviour.

3) They often demand extensive supervision to ensure adherence.

However, it is expected that effective administrative controls complement higher-level WHS controls and encompass:

  1. Establishing a ‘buy quiet’ policy to prevent noisy equipment from entering the workplace. Set noise criteria for new equipment and include them in purchase specifications and tendering processes. Utilise noise emission data for informed, quieter, and cost-effective plant selection.
  2. Providing tranquil lunch and rest areas with minimal background noise, allowing workers to take breaks away from noisy environments.
  3. Collaboratively developing safe work procedures with workers, and facilitating safe work activities. Strategies may involve worker rotation to reduce individual exposure times, access restriction to noisy zones, and implementing a rigorous plant, equipment, and tool maintenance program.
  4. Scheduling noisy activities outside regular hours or during shifts with fewer workers present, whenever feasible.

Workplace Noise Assessments

Workplace noise assessments play a pivotal role in identifying hazardous noise sources and proposing effective controls.

SafeWork recommends conducting these assessments in noisy workplaces, especially when:

  1. New machinery is installed or removed.
  2. Workload or equipment operating conditions change significantly, impacting noise levels.
  3. Alterations in building structures are likely to affect noise levels.
  4. Modifications to working arrangements influence the duration workers spend in noisy environments.

To accurately gauge worker exposure, both personal and general workplace noise measurements must be taken while equipment is in operation.

Results of Workplace Noise Assessment

The results of a workplace noise assessment empower organisations to:

  1. Identify workers at risk of hazardous noise exposure.
  2. Pinpoint machines and processes generating hazardous noise.
  3. Determine the most effective high-level controls.
  4. Assess the necessity for hearing PPE to mitigate remaining risks.

SafeWork’s advice includes a systematic workplace hearing conservation program in the noise management plan, safeguarding workers against the risk of hearing loss

1) Hearing Personal Protective Equipment

Hearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) serves as the final line of defence in the control hierarchy, to be employed only when all higher-level controls have been exhausted.

The workplace assessment, tailored to specific noise exposure levels and the desired in-ear noise exposure target, determines the appropriate level of hearing protection to reduce noise intensity to the required 80dB(A) in-ear exposure level.

Here are the essential criteria for hearing PPE:

1) Compliance with Australian Standard AS/NZS 1270:2002: Acoustics – Hearing Protectors, with test results provided on the protector’s packaging.

2) Selection and maintenance in accordance with AS/NZS 1269.3:2005 Occupational Noise Management – Hearing Protector Program.

When choosing personal hearing protection, consider factors such as:

  1. The worker’s needs.
  2. Workplace noise levels.
  3. The desired in-ear noise exposure target.
  4. Required noise attenuation.
  5. Comfort, weight, and clamping force of the hearing PPE.
  6. Suitability for both the worker and the environment.
  7. Compatibility with other protective gear like spectacles, hard hats, respirators, and eye protection.
  8. Worker involvement in the selection process, offering a reasonable choice from various types, and seeking professional guidance when necessary.

Additional hearing protection considerations encompass:

  1. Avoiding under- or over-protection.
  2. Ensuring workers consistently wear hearing PPE in noisy environments.
  3. Refraining from substituting audio headphones for hearing protectors.
  4. Regularly inspecting and maintaining hearing PPE.
  5. Providing proper training to workers on the correct use, fit, care, and maintenance of personal hearing protectors.
2) Maintenance and Review

After an organisation has implemented control measures to safeguard health and safety by managing noise-related risks in their workplace, it’s crucial to consistently maintain and review these measures to ensure they remain effective and suitable for specific work conditions. Regular reviews are essential, especially when:

1) The existing control measures prove ineffective.

2) Any workplace changes are being planned.

3) New hazards or risks are identified.

4) Consultation results indicate the need for a review.

5) Health and safety representatives request a review.

Common review methods include workplace inspections, consultations, record analysis, and data assessment. Utilising the same techniques employed during the initial hazard identification phase is recommended for checking the effectiveness of control measures. Furthermore, consulting with your workers and their health and safety representatives is essential in this ongoing process of maintaining a safe work environment.

Where to go for help 

Businesses grappling with workplace distractions caused by excessive noise should instil trust in the expertise of Anitech’s experienced Occupational Hygienists.

Our occupational hygienists are experienced in assisting various organisations in reducing workplace noise. They can help businesses by meticulously assessing workplace noise levels, suggesting and implementing effective control measures, optimising workplace designs for noise reduction, educating employees on safety practices, and continuously monitoring noise levels for compliance and improvement.

Their expertise can ensure a quieter and safer work environment, safeguarding both employee well-being and productivity.

So, what are you waiting for? Don’t let workplace clamour impede your employees’ performance and well-being. Discover how to mitigate workplace noise and unlock your team’s full potential today!

Contact us for assistance today at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – sales@anitechgroup.com.

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