Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational health hazards in Australia. According to Safe Work, between 28-32% of our workforce work in an environment where they are likely to be exposed to loud noises. Whilst noise exposure can cause irreversible damage to our hearing, it’s also a preventable problem providing the correct noise control measures are put in place by employers. Knowing how to identify potential noise hazards is the first step towards protecting hearing in the workplace.
Common noise hazards
Whilst certain industries, such as the construction and manufacturing industries, carry a greater risk of noise exposure, it’s important to note that anyone can be subject to noise exposure whether at home or at work. Depending on the level, length and frequency of noise, exposure can result in temporary or permanent hearing damage. In some cases, sudden exposure to very intense sounds can even lead to immediate hearing loss. So when does sound become dangerous? Prolonged exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels can be harmful for an individual’s hearing, and this risk becomes greater as the length and level of exposure increases. Here are some of the common noise hazards that employees in high-risk industries may be exposed to:
- Lawnmower – 90 decibels
- Chainsaw – 110 decibels
- Rock drill – 120 decibels
- Riveting hammer – 130 decibels
- Jet engine at 30m – 140 decibels
* Statistics from Safe Work Australia
Additional dangers of workplace noise exposure
Whilst the impact of workplace noise may not be immediately noticeable, excessive exposure can impact a lot more than an employee’s hearing health. In fact, it can even lead to greater occupational risks in the workplace.
- Hearing loss: In the short term, employees who are frequently exposed to high level noises may experience temporary hearing loss or ringing in their ears. Although the full impact of noise exposure may not be immediately obvious, frequent exposure to noise may impact employees’ long-term ability to detect high frequency sounds and communicate with others.
- Lowered work performance: High levels of noise exposure can impair an employee’s ability to concentrate and communicate with those around them. This could contribute to additional workplace injuries and accidents.
- Fatigue: Noise exposure can create additional health and safety hazards by increasing fatigue and stress amongst employees.
- Tinnitus: According to research, 20% of people suffering from noise-induced hearing loss also suffer from tinnitus.
How to identify workplace noise hazards
As an Australian employer, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe working environment and ensure the correct noise control measures are put in place to protect employees against noise exposure. This includes carrying out regular noise assessments to identify noise hazards and how to reduce them. An easy way to identify workplace noise hazards is with the ‘one metre rule’ – if you need to shout or raise your voice to communicate with someone who is an arm’s length away, that noise is likely to pose a hearing hazard. If your organisation relies on heavy machinery and plant equipment, suppliers will also provide relevant information regarding noise emission levels to help you identify any machinery that could be a threat to employees’ hearing.
WorkCover hearing tests with The Art of Hearing
At The Art of Hearing, we understand the importance of your hearing and health to both your professional and personal lifestyle. Our experienced audiologists are able to carry out WorkCover WA hearing tests and pre-employment assessments for employees who work in prescribed workplaces. We can also advise you on the best custom hearing solutions to support your hearing protection needs.
For more information about our custom hearing solutions, or to book an audiometric test at one of our Perth hearing clinics, visit our website to organise a hearing consultation with our audiologists.