Have we ever considered that the relentless hum of workplace noise might be more than just an annoyance? Imagine a scenario where every decibel has an impact – not just on the workers’ productivity, but on their long-term well-being. In the bustling world of modern work environments, the question arises: Is workplace noise the silent culprit that jeopardises the career and health of workers? 

This calls for enforcing strict workplace noise control strategies on the part of the businesses and imposing workplace noise limits to adhere to. 

Workplace noise exposure limits are crucial to safeguard employees’ hearing health, reduce the risk of accidents due to distractions, and ensure legal compliance, fostering a safe and productive work environment. 

In this blog, we have encapsulated the importance of workplace noise exposure limits and suggested best practices to keep industrial noise within acceptable limits to safeguard workers’ health. 

Workplace Noise 

Workplace noise encompasses the collective array of sounds stemming from diverse sources within a work environment. These sources may include machinery, equipment, human activities, and external factors, contributing to a soundscape that ranges from constant background noise to intermittent bursts. Measurement of this acoustic environment is quantified in decibels (dB). 

The effective management of workplace noise is paramount. It safeguards employees’ auditory health, optimises productivity, and creates a secure and conducive work atmosphere. Importantly, the nature and intensity of workplace noise can vary significantly across industries and job roles, necessitating a multifaceted approach. This includes conducting thorough noise assessments, implementing engineering solutions, and ensuring the appropriate use of personal protective equipment—all aimed at mitigating the impact of noise on the workforce. 

Sources of Workplace Noise 

Workplace noise emanates from various sources, necessitating the attention of organisations in Australia and the world Hence, understanding the diverse origins of workplace noise is essential for implementing effective noise management strategies and preserving a conducive and harmonious work environment. 

Below given are some example industry types and sources of workplace noise: 

1) Machinery and Equipment:  

The operational hum of machinery and heavy equipment plays a pivotal role in many industries, defining the auditory landscape of workplaces. 

2) Construction and Demolition:  

Construction sites, with their symphony of drilling, hammering, and the presence of heavy vehicles, epitomise environments characterized by elevated noise levels. 

3) Manufacturing Facilities:  

In manufacturing facilities, the rhythmic clatter of machinery and the ceaseless movement of conveyors underscore the bustling nature of these workplaces. 

4) Transportation Hubs:  

Transportation hubs such as airports, train stations, and busy roadways resound with the continuous activity of vehicles and transportation systems, constituting significant noise sources. 

5) Office Environments:  

Within office confines, the drone of photocopiers, the background hum of HVAC systems, and the constant buzz of phone conversations collectively contribute to the auditory backdrop. 

6) Healthcare Facilities:  

The clinical setting is often punctuated by alarms, the operational sounds of medical equipment, and the conversations of healthcare professionals, creating a distinctive soundscape. 

7) Hospitality Industry:  

In restaurants and entertainment venues, the culinary symphony in kitchens, the rhythm of music, and the lively banter of patrons come together to form the characteristic noise tapestry. 

8) Retail Establishments:  

The ringing of cash registers, security alarms, and the chatter of customers converge to compose the ambient noise in retail stores. 

9) Warehouses and Storage Facilities:  

The heartbeat of warehouses resonates with the sounds of forklifts in motion, the synchronised movement of conveyor belts, and the machinery employed in packaging operations. 

Impact of Excessive Noise on Hearing 

In the intricate workings of your auditory system, sound acts as a catalyst, engaging minuscule hair-like cells within your inner ear. These sensory cells transmit vital messages to your brain. However, the fragility of these cells becomes evident in cases of noise-induced hearing loss when they sustain damage. 

Hearing loss manifests in varying degrees, ranging from temporary inconveniences to irrevocable impairments that may deteriorate with time. Regrettably, permanent hearing loss remains beyond the scope of current medical treatments. 

One of the primary culprits responsible for inflicting damage upon these delicate cells is exposure to exceedingly loud sounds. Such auditory assaults can occur suddenly, resembling an explosive event, or they can materialise over an extended duration. 

Furthermore, hearing loss isn’t solely attributable to noise. Certain chemicals, recognised as ototoxic substances, also pose a risk to auditory health. It’s worth noting that when a worker contends with both the perils of excessive noise and exposure to ototoxic substances simultaneously, the likelihood of hearing loss significantly escalates, surpassing the risks associated with each hazard individually. This underscores the importance of comprehensive workplace safety measures and vigilance in protecting employees from these potential auditory threats. 

Workplace Noise Exposure Limits 

Workplace noise exposure limits, often abbreviated as WNELs, are established thresholds that dictate the maximum allowable levels of noise to which employees can be exposed during their work shifts. These limits are designed to protect workers from hearing damage and are crucial for maintaining a safe and productive work environment while ensuring legal compliance. 

Workplace Noise Exposure Limits as per Safe Work Australia 

In Australia, workplace noise regulations, governed by the WHS Regulation 2011, mandate strict guidelines to protect workers from hearing loss risks. Employers (PCBUs) must adhere to exposure limits, with noise levels not exceeding LAeq 8hr of 85 dB(A) and LC peak of 140 dB(C). 

Safe Work Australia has also established acceptable noise level thresholds, for office-based tasks: 

  1. 50 decibels for tasks that require intense focus or frequent communication. 
  1. 70 decibels for routine, fast-paced work that demands constant attention and necessitates regular conversations. 

Noise Regulations in NSW 

In New South Wales (NSW), workplace noise regulations, governed by the WHS Regulation 2011, mandate strict guidelines to protect workers from hearing loss risks. Employers (PCBUs) must adhere to exposure limits (Clause 57), with noise levels not exceeding LAeq 8hr of 85 dB(A) and LC peak of 140 dB(C), assessed under AS/NZS 1269.1:2005 standards. Audiometric testing is mandatory for workers frequently using hearing protection, conducted within 3 months of noise-intensive work commencement and at least every two years. These regulations also impose responsibilities on plant and equipment designers, manufacturers, importers, and suppliers to minimise noise levels and provide relevant information to workplaces. 

Noise Exposure Standard 

As the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), the responsibility lies in ensuring that workers are not subjected to noise levels exceeding the exposure standard, within reasonable limits. 

Noise is typically assessed in two ways: continuous exposure over an eight-hour shift and peak or one-off noise events. 

Employees should not be exposed to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels on average over an eight-hour workday. This criterion applies to sound pressure levels from machines such as blenders, lawnmowers, rattle guns, compressed air cleaning, welding, grinders, leaf blowers, etc.,. However, it’s important to note that the acceptable exposure limit varies with both decibel levels and the duration of exposure. For instance, the risk associated with 91 decibels over two hours is equivalent to that of 85 decibels over eight hours. 

Furthermore, workers must not be subjected to noise levels exceeding 140 decibels, as any exposure beyond this threshold can result in instant hearing damage. Examples of such high noise levels include activities like sledgehammering or exposure to gunshots. 

If it is determined that a worker requires frequent use of personal hearing protection to shield them from noise levels surpassing the noise exposure standard, it is imperative to provide the worker with regular audiometric testing to monitor and safeguard their hearing health. 

 Benefits of Compliance  

Compliance with the noise exposure limits can bestow humongous benefits on organisations including the following:  

1)  Employee Health Preservation 

Adhering to workplace noise limits safeguards employee hearing health, emphasising the organisation’s commitment to employee well-being. 

2) Enhanced Productivity and Satisfaction 

Compliance fosters a quieter, more focused work environment, boosting productivity and job satisfaction. 

3) Financial Prudence and Legal Shielding 

Compliance saves costs on hearing-related issues and offers legal protection in today’s regulated environment. 

4) Reputation Enhancement: 

Prioritising workplace safety bolsters corporate reputation, attracting clients and partners. 

5) Sustainability Alignment: 

Compliance aligns with sustainability goals, appealing to eco-conscious stakeholders and minimising environmental impact. 

Best Practices for Navigating WNELs in Australia 

Here are the best practices for successfully navigating workplace exposure limits as suggested by our experts: 

1) Conduct Comprehensive Noise Assessments 

To effectively manage workplace noise, start with a comprehensive noise assessment. Engage certified and experienced occupational hygienists like the ones from Anitech, to measure and analyse noise levels across your workplace. This initial step is pivotal in identifying high-risk areas and formulating appropriate control measures. 

2) Implement Noise Control Measures 

Once you’ve identified noise hotspots, focus on implementing noise control measures. This could involve engineering controls, such as soundproofing or equipment modifications, and administrative measures such as altering work schedules or providing hearing protection. Tailor these measures to your specific workplace needs. 

3) Prioritise Employee Training and Awareness 

Ensuring that employees are aware of noise hazards and understand the importance of using hearing protection is crucial. Provide training programs, distribute educational materials, and regularly communicate noise-related safety procedures to all staff members. 

4) Regular Audiometric Testing 

In Australia, the model regulations mandate audiometric testing for workers frequently using personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against hearing loss. This testing should be conducted within three months of commencing noise-intensive work and then at intervals not exceeding two years. This proactive approach helps identify workers at risk and allows for timely interventions. 

5) Compliance Monitoring and Review 

Compliance isn’t a one-time effort; it’s an ongoing commitment to safety. 

Businesses should regularly monitor and review noise control measures and their effectiveness. Furthermore, they should stay updated with any changes in regulations and adapt their practices accordingly.  

Thus, adhering to the workplace noise exposure limits, conducting noise assessments at regular intervals, and implementing control measures not only serves as a safeguard for employee well-being but also stands as a strategic pillar in advancing the overall prosperity and success of your organisation. 

Invest in a Quieter, Safer Future. Take the initiative today by conducting a thorough noise assessment in your workplace. Ensure compliance with noise exposure limits and protect your employees’ well-being.  

Anitech’s experienced occupational hygienist can help organisations with noise assessments and assist with implementing controls to comply with noise regulations. 

Feel free to reach out to us for professional assistance at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – sales@anitechgroup.com.