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Anitech’s Occupational Noise Exposure Guide 

13/12/2022by minal.metkari0Read: 9 minutes

Occupational noise exposure to sound pressure levels above 85 dB is one of the serious concerns of Australian organisations as long-term exposure to this level can cause noise-induced hearing loss.

Occupational Noise

The 2015 National Code of Practice “Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work” mentions the negative effects of noise on health, stating that “Noise implies any sound that is potentially hazardous to a person’s health or safety,” but no longer includes the “unwanted” component of noise.

As per Work Health and Safety regulations, any sound that exceeds the exposure standard is considered noise. The exposure standards at a worker’s ear without considering any hearing protections are:

  1. LAeq,8h of 85 dB (A)
  1. LCpeak of 140 dB (C)

LAeq,8h dB(A) – An A-weighting filter is a type of filter commonly used to measure the noise level in a given environment. The filter is designed to mimic how the human ear perceives sound, giving a more accurate representation of the noise level than other filters. The A-weighting filter is most commonly used in noise measurement instruments, such as sound level meters and noise dosimeters. These instruments use the filter to measure the noise level in decibels (dB), with the A-weighting applied.

LCpeak dB (C) – a peak noise level measured in the C-weighting filter range; which, whilst including frequencies audible to the human ear also includes lower frequency noise which is not.

The 2015 Noise Code of Practice also states, “Risks of adverse health effects can be minimised by keeping noise levels below: 50 dB(A) where work is being carried out that requires high concentration and effortless conversation, or 70 dB(A) where more routine work is being carried out that requires speed or attentiveness or where it is important to carry on conversations. These levels include noise from other work carried out within the workplace”.

Health Effects of Occupational Noise

Occupational noise exposure is a common problem affecting workers in many industries. Exposure to high noise levels for extended periods of time can have serious consequences for a person’s health, including noise-induced hearing loss, high blood pressure, stress, and other health problems. It can also impact a person’s safety, as loud noises can interfere with communication and make it difficult to hear warning signals or instructions.

To protect workers from occupational noise’s harmful effects, employers must implement appropriate noise control measures and provide hearing protection equipment when necessary. This can be done through various measures, such as providing hearing protection, implementing noise-reduction strategies, and limiting the time that employees are exposed to loud noises.

In order to comply with the regulatory noise standard, persons conducting a company or undertakings (PCBUs) shall adhere to the 2015 Code of Practice, “Managing noise and preventing hearing damage at work.”

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that occurs as a result of exposure to loud noises. It is a common form of hearing loss, particularly among workers who are regularly exposed to loud noises on the job. According to Safe Work Australia, noise-induced hearing loss can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and lead to disability. Safe Work Australia declared Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) as one of eight priority diseases that must be addressed by regulators and the industry.

Exposure to loud noises can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear, leading to a variety of symptoms, including tinnitus (ringing in the ears), auditory sensation (sensitivity to sounds), and difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds. Noise-induced hearing loss can also affect an individual’s quality of life and lead to impaired speech discrimination.

What are the steps required to manage the risks of occupational noise-induced hearing loss?

Managing the risks of Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) requires a proactive and comprehensive approach that involves identifying potential sources of noise, assessing levels of exposure, implementing control measures, and providing employees with the information and training they need to protect their hearing.

Assess the noise exposure level

Employers can use a variety of tools and techniques, including sound level meters and personal dosimeters, to perform workplace noise surveys. The results of these assessments can be used to develop a plan for reducing exposure to harmful levels of noise, which may include implementing engineering controls, such as installing noise-reducing barriers or enclosures around noisy machinery, or administrative controls, such as limiting the amount of time employees spend working in noisy areas.

Prevention of Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss

It is important for workers to use hearing protectors while working in noisy environments if higher-level controls such as Elimination, Substitution, Engineering, and Administrative controls cannot be implemented. Employers should also ensure that their workers are aware of the potential risks of noise-induced hearing loss and provide them with the necessary training and equipment to protect their hearing. By taking these steps, employers can assist workers in preventing hearing loss and maintaining their quality of life.

Implementing control measures

Some examples of control measures that can be implemented at a workplace to manage noise are:

  • Identify the sources of noise in the workplace and take steps to reduce or eliminate them. This might involve using quieter equipment, modifying work processes, or implementing engineering controls such as soundproofing.
  • Provide employees with hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, if the noise levels in the workplace are above safe levels.
  • Implement a regular schedule of noise monitoring to ensure that noise levels are within safe limits and to identify any potential problem areas.
  • Provide training to employees on the dangers of noise and how to protect themselves from it. This should include information on how to use hearing protection properly.
  • Establish clear communication channels so that employees can report any issues with noise in the workplace.
  • Consider implementing a “quiet period” during certain times of the day or week to give employees a break from loud noises.
  • Invest in high-quality, comfortable hearing protection. This will encourage employees to use it more consistently.

Ultimately, the specific control measures that are most effective will depend on the unique characteristics of a workplace. It’s important to work closely with employees, health and safety professionals, and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of the organisation.

Implement a hearing conservation program

Employers should also provide employees with information and training on the risks of Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) and how to protect themselves from excessive noise exposure at their workplace. This may include providing training for employees on hearing protection usage and instructing them on how to use these hearing protectors properly. Employers should also establish a system for monitoring the effectiveness of control measures and making adjustments as needed to ensure that employees are not exposed to harmful levels of noise.

By following these steps, employers can effectively reduce the incidence of Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) and ensure the health and safety of their employees.

Other risk factors when assessing noise exposure risk

1. Ototoxins:

Ototoxins are chemicals that have the potential to cause hearing loss and other damage to the ear. Ototoxic chemicals can have damaging effects on the ear and can cause hearing loss when they are combined with noise exposure.

Ototoxicity is the term used to describe the damaging effects of ototoxic chemicals on the ear. Some of the ototoxic chemicals are solvents like toluene, styrene, trichloroethylene, carbon disulphide, hexane, and butanol; toxic metals including lead, mercury, and trimethyltin; nitriles; pharmaceuticals; heavy metals and chemical asphyxiants (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2009). When ototoxic chemicals are present in the ear, they can damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for transmitting sound to the brain. They can also damage the auditory nerve, which carries sound signals from the ear to the brain.

In addition to the risks of hearing loss, ototoxic chemicals can also have neurotoxic effects, impacting a person’s ability to think, remember, and learn. This can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and ability to work. Workers exposed to noise and ototoxic substances are at particular risk of ototoxicity. This includes workers in manufacturing, mining, and healthcare industries, where exposure to loud noises and ototoxic chemicals is common.

To protect against the risks of ototoxicity, it is important for workers in these industries to use hearing protection, and to be aware of the potential risks of exposure to ototoxic chemicals. Employers should also take steps to reduce noise and ototoxic chemicals in the workplace and provide workers with the training and equipment they need to protect their hearing and overall health. The occupations that are exposed to noise and ototoxic chemicals are aircraft maintenance workers, printing industry workers, industrial and house painters, dry‐cleaners, boat builders, furniture makers, refinery and fuel product workers, vehicle and aircraft refuellers, firefighters, firearm instructors, agriculture workers.

The Noise Code of Practice states that monitoring of hearing with regular audiometric testing is recommended where workers are exposed to:

Ototoxic substance at any level and noise with LAe,8h greater than 80 dB(A) or LC, peak greater than 135 dB(C);

2. Hand-arm Vibration (HAV)

According to studies, exposure to hand-arm vibration is correlated with hearing loss. Hearing loss may be more common in workers who use tools like chainsaws that expose them to both hand-arm vibrations and noise. Workers could be exposed to both noise and hand-arm vibration while using the following tools:

  • pneumatic and electrical rotary tools such as concrete breakers, grinders, sanders, and drills
  • percussive tools such as chippers and riveters
  • petrol-powered tools such as lawnmowers, brush cutters, and chainsaws.

Employers should find alternative ways to eliminate or reduce the use of vibrating equipment or find alternative equipment which produces less vibration in order to reduce the exposure to hard-arm vibration. (Source: 2021 QLD Code of Practise for “Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work”)

3. Whole-body vibration (WBV)

It is evident that the workers who use vibrating plants and are exposed to noise at the same time are more likely to suffer hearing loss than workers exposed to the same level of noise alone. The vibration transmits to the whole body by the surface on which it is supported. The WBV is experienced,

  • by drivers, operators, and passengers in mobile plants when traveling over uneven surfaces
  • while standing for example standing on platforms attached to concrete crushing plant
  • sharp impacts like shocks and jolts
  • while vehicles used off-road or on unsealed roads, for example on farms and construction, mine, and quarry sites
  • at small, fast boats and in helicopters.

Exposure to both vibration and noise is also understood to increase musculoskeletal problems. Measures to eliminate or minimise exposure to WBV should be considered:

  • at the source of vibration
  • along the paths of the vibration
  • at the position where the vibration enters the worker.

Consider if hazards from using a vibrating plant can be completely removed from the workplace (e.g. by introducing a remotely controlled mobile plant rather than a plant driven by workers).

(Source: 2021 QLD Code of Practise for “Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work”)

4. Acoustic Shock

The risk of acoustic shock is a concern in call centers and other workplaces where employees use telephone headsets. Acoustic shock is a condition that can result from exposure to sudden and unexpected loud noises, such as those produced by telephone headsets.

Acoustic shock is a condition that can result from exposure to sudden and unexpected loud noises, such as those produced by telephone headsets in the workplace. Symptoms of acoustic shock may include pain or discomfort in the ear, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), auditory sensation (sensitivity to sounds), and difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds. In severe cases, acoustic shock can lead to permanent hearing loss.

To protect against the risks of acoustic shock in the workplace, employers should assess the level of noise produced by telephone headsets and other equipment and implement engineering controls to reduce the noise levels to safe levels. This may include using headsets with noise-canceling features, installing sound-absorbing materials in the workspace, or providing employees with hearing protection. In addition to engineering controls, employers should also implement safe work practices to reduce the risk of acoustic shock. For example, employees should be trained to use the mute function on their headsets when not speaking, to avoid sudden loud noises, and to take regular breaks from using their headsets.

Employers should also educate their employees on the risks of acoustic shock and the importance of using hearing protection when working with telephone headsets. The level of noise produced by a telephone headset can vary depending on the signal strength and the volume of the caller’s voice. To ensure that noise levels are within safe limits, employers should monitor the level of noise produced by telephone headsets and take action to reduce it if necessary.

By implementing effective controls and promoting awareness of the risks of acoustic shock, employers can protect their employees from this condition and preserve their hearing health.

5. Personal portable devices with music capabilities

The use of personal portable devices with music capabilities, such as smartphones and MP3 players, can contribute to occupational noise and potentially cause hearing loss in the workplace.

To protect against the risks of occupational noise from personal portable devices, employers should educate their employees on the safe use of these devices and the potential risks of prolonged exposure to loud music. Employers may also consider implementing policies that limit the use of personal portable devices with music capabilities in the workplace.

In addition, employees can take steps to protect their own hearing by keeping the volume of their music at a safe level and avoiding prolonged exposure to loud music. By taking these precautions, employees can reduce their risk of occupational noise-induced hearing loss and preserve their hearing health.

6. Pregnancy

Exposure to occupational noise during pregnancy can negatively affect the mother and the unborn child. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss in pregnant women, negatively impacting their overall health and well-being. In addition, exposure to loud noises during pregnancy can affect the unborn child’s development, potentially leading to hearing loss or other developmental issues.

To protect against the risks of occupational noise during pregnancy, employers should assess the level of noise in the workplace and take action to reduce it if it exceeds safe levels. In addition, pregnant women should protect their hearing by avoiding loud noises whenever possible, using hearing protection when working in loud environments, and taking regular breaks from noisy tasks.

By implementing effective controls and promoting awareness of the risks of occupational noise during pregnancy, employers can protect their employees and their unborn children from the negative effects of noise exposure.

How can Anitech help?

Measuring occupational noise exposure and providing clients with solutions and controls to keep noise levels in check is one of the key services of Anitech.

Our occupational hygienists are experienced professionals who have helped clients tackle occupational noise exposure issues around Australia. They will also provide you with guidance on complying with the legislation and recommend control measures.

Feel free to enquire here – https://anitechgroup.com/noise-assessments/

You can also ring us at 1300 802 163 or email us at info@anitechgroup.com

Our team will be happy to help your business!

minal.metkari

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