Noise can destroy your ability to hear clearly. It can also put you at risk by affecting your concentration or making it hard to hear the sounds you need to hear to work safely, such as instructions or warning signals.
What is hazardous noise?
When sound is unwanted it is often called noise. Noise is measured in decibels and becomes hazardous when it exceeds workplace exposure standards. A business must ensure workers are not exposed to noise that exceeds the exposure standard. The exposure standard for noise is defined in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 as LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) or an LC,peak of 140 dB(C).
The Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB) outlines how to identify hazardous noise, your responsibilities and practical advice on how to keep workers safe.
Noise can impact people in different ways and the potential for it to cause harm is not always obvious. Noise can affect workers by:
- being too loud – causing temporary or permanent hearing loss or tinnitus
- being distracting – low level, repeated noise can increase the risk or fatigue and cardiovascular disorders like high blood pressure and heart disease
- making it difficult to hear the instructions, warnings and other sounds we need to keep safe.
What are the risks?
Hazardous noise at your place of work can expose you to a number of risks, including:
- hearing loss and tinnitus
- interference with speech
- interference with concentration and thought processes
- disturbed sleep
- fatigue and aggression
- reduce immune response
- acoustic shock.
Other serious health effects include:
- raised blood pressure
- accelerated heart rate
- stress, which can lead to irritability and headaches
- hypertension, increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks
- reduced white blood cell count and immune response
- gastric ulcers
- heart disease.
Some common industrial chemicals and medications can cause hearing loss or worsen the effect of noise on hearing. These are called ototoxic substances. If they are absorbed into the blood stream, they may damage the cochlea in the inner ear.
There’s also evidence that-hand transmitted vibrations can worsen the effects of noise on hearing.
How do I manage the risks?
Workers and management can work together to reduce risks. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Read more about how you can create safe work.
As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own health and safety and not adversely affect the health and safety of others. You must wear and correctly use personal protective equipment if it is provided. You can read more about workers' rights and responsibilities.
Some indicators that your hearing may be at risk include:
- raising your voice in a noisy workplace to speak to someone about one metre away from you
- impaired hearing at the end of the working shift that takes a few hours to return to normal
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus) during or after work.
If you don’t think your employer is doing enough to protect you against hazardous noise at work, you have a right to speak up about work conditions and say no to unsafe work. You can also raise a workplace safety concern.
You must protect workers from exposure to hazardous noise.
The Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB) provides guidance on how to manage the risks by following a systematic process that involves:
- identifying sources of hazardous noise that may cause or contribute to hearing loss
- assessing the risks by carrying out a noise survey or assessment
- considering whether the hearing of workers should be monitored through audiometric tests
- implementing risk control measures
- reviewing risk control measures.
Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws. You can read an overview of the general four-step process as well as noise-specific information below.Four steps to manage risk
Four steps to manage risk
The first step in the risk management process is to identify all noise sources at your place of work. This involves finding things and situations which could potentially cause harm to people. Hazards generally arise from the following aspects of work and their interaction:
- physical work environment
- equipment, materials and substances used
- work tasks and how they are performed
- work design and management.
Inspecting your business
You can identify hazards by looking at your place of work and how work is carried out. Note the potential for noise to be hazardous is not always obvious. Exposure to noise is cumulative and a worker may perform a number of noisy work activities over time which, in combination, may expose the worker to hazardous noise.
Talking to your workers
Consult with workers and any health and safety representatives at each step of the risk management process. By drawing on their experience, knowledge, and ideas, you’re more likely to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures.
You must also consult your workers when planning changes or buying any potentially noisy machinery or equipment at your place of work.
Health and safety representatives must have access to relevant information such as noise exposure data and potential control options. If you have a health and safety committee, you should engage the committee in the process as well.
Reviewing available information
Read information and advice from a wide range of sources about noise hazards and risks. This should include equipment guidelines and workers’ compensation data for your organisation and industry. Check if any of your workers have made workers’ compensation claims for hearing loss and if any hearing loss or tinnitus has been found during repeat audiometric testing.
If you have identified any hazardous noise, assess the risks by carrying out a noise assessment, unless the exposures can be reduced to below the standard immediately.
A noise assessment can help identify:
- which noise sources are causing the risk
- who is at risk of hearing loss
- what control measures could be used
- how well existing controls are working.
The noise exposure calculator helps businesses to work out a worker’s exposure to noise across a work shift. It also helps determine which exposure controls are recommended and whether audiometric testing should be done.
Section 4 in the Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB) has more information on noise assessments, including who can do them and when they need to be done.
Don’t use smartphone noise measurement applications for noise assessments—they’re not accurate enough for work health and safety purposes.
Noise assessments should be repeated at least every five years or whenever there is a change of plant, work processes, building structure or duration of work arrangements.
Noise assessment records should be kept at the workplace and made available to workers.
The Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB) outlines effective control measures to eliminate or minimise the source of noise according to the hierarchy of risk control. According to the hierarchy you must always aim to eliminate the hazard so far as reasonably possibly. If it’s not reasonably to eliminate the hazard, you must minimise risk with one or more controls.
Control noise at the source
Consider how you can change your work processes or machinery to reduce or prevent noisy work:
- Introduce a ‘buy quiet’ purchasing and hiring policy to choose the quietest options available.
- Modify equipment or processes to reduce the noise.
- Use flexible rubber mount connections to separate a vibrating noise source from the surface where it’s mounted.
- Apply vibration-damping material to vibrating plant surfaces.
- Reduce the speed of fans or other components.
- Fit pneumatic silencers to compressed-air exhausts or blow nozzles.
- Maintain equipment to prevent excess noise from loose parts, unbalanced components, worn bearings, and poor lubrication.
- Change the way workers do the work so that it is quieter.
- Use absorbent materials to cushion the impacts between hard objects and surfaces, for example, use rubber flaps inside a material bin to break the fall of material.
- Change the force, pressure, or speed that leads to the noise.
See related links below for case studies of how businesses have successfully reduced hazardous noise.
Control the noise pathway
Separate workers from hazard noise:
- Build enclosures or sound-proof covers around noise sources.
- Provide acoustic enclosures for operators.
- Provide quiet rooms or areas for breaks.
- Improve the acoustic properties of offices in noisy places of work.
Use barriers to block and direct the path of noise:
- Use an enclosure around a riveting hammer.
Place hazardous noise sources further away from workers:
- Use remote controls to operate noisy equipment from a distance.
- Locate noisy compressors outside, or away from, work areas.
- Have team meetings and briefings outside noisy areas.
- Provide quiet areas for lunch and breaks from work.
Protect the worker
- Organise work schedules so that noisy work is done when less people are present.
- Let people know in advance when and where noisy work is going to happen.
- Limit the time workers and others spend in noisy areas.
- Restrict access to noisy work areas.
- Define zones where hearing protection is required.
Provide workers with information and training about:
- the noise hazards likely to be present in the workplace and noise induced hearing loss
- what controls are used to prevent noise induced hearing loss and how to use them
- how to control their voice levels and noise protocols. This is important in call centres, for example where workers should not speak loudly or hold conversations near call handlers, particularly during shift changeover.
Provide hearing protection
Like all PPE, hearing protection is best when you use it along with other controls. To work properly, hearing protection must suit the wearer, suit the task, remain in good condition, be used correctly and be used consistently. See related links below for more information about how to select and use personal hearing protectors.
You should regularly review your noise processes control measures to make sure they remain effective for managing your workplace risks.
You can read more about the circumstances when work health and safety laws require you to review your risk controls.
Audiometric testing is an important part of managing risks from noise exposure by monitoring workers’ hearing. If testing shows changes in a worker's hearing levels, you should investigate any causes and whether there’s a need for corrective action.
Before starting an audiometric testing program, you should consult with your workers and health and safety representatives. This is so they understand why you are doing the tests and how they are part of your risk management program.
All testing should be done by an appropriately trained and experienced person, using procedures and equipment that comply with Part 4: Auditory assessment of AS/NZS 1269: Occupational noise management.
Testing should include:
- an initial audiometric test carried out within three months of starting work
- monitoring audiometric testing carried out within 24 months of the initial test for comparison of hearing abilities
- follow up monitoring audiometric testing every two years, if no threshold shift has been detected. High risk groups may require more frequent testing.
Audiometric testing alone won’t prevent hazardous noise in your place of work.
For more information on audiometric testing, you can download the Managing noise and preventing hearing loss code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.24 MB)
Acoustic incidents in call centres
Acoustic incidents happen when workers are exposed to a loud noise such as a sudden loud shriek or a piercing tone through a headset. This can startle workers and possibly cause a pain in the ear. Although it is rare, some workers can experience ongoing symptoms.
You can minimise the risks from an acoustic incident by:
- attaching acoustic output limiter devices to headsets
- reducing the level of background noise
- promptly repairing damaged equipment and network faults
- training call handlers and supervisors in:
- how to properly fit and use headsets
- how to identify an acoustic incident
- what steps to follow in the event of a sudden loud and unexpected sound, causing pain
- developing and implementing policies and procedures for:
- identifying and removing faulty headsets
- avoiding mobile phone use in contact centres because they can interfere with headsets
- managing an acoustic incident
- ensuring that work practices and the work environment do not contribute to occupational stress.
Standards and compliance
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- AS/NZS 2107 Acoustics: Recommended design sound levels and reverberation times for building interiors .
- AS/NZS 1269.1:2005 Occupational noise management measurement and assessment of noise immission and exposure
- AS1319: Safety signs for the occupational environment
Code of practice
- Manage noise and preventing hearing loss at work code of practice 2021
- Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.7 MB)
- Personal hearing protectors – protecting your hearing (PDF, 0.36 MB)
- Personal hearing protectors – selection (PDF, 0.3 MB)
- Personal hearing protectors – different types (PDF, 0.38 MB)