Employers need to take action on effective noise control
In reducing occupational noise-induced hearing loss (ONIHL), employers focus too much on ear muffs/plugs and audiometry rather than taking a more holistic approach based primarily on engineering controls, according to a recent Safe Work Australia report.
Management commitment may be the most important factor in ONIHL prevention, and as such, the report suggested that employers need to commit to a written hearing conservation or noise control program and a buy-quiet purchasing policy.
“There needs to be leadership from senior management, clear allocation of relevant operational responsibilities among middle managers in noise hazard areas, and technical competence in noise management and control,” the report said.
“Also, a noise control effort may seem to be overwhelming and this may result in a decision that control is not feasible; hence, the widespread reliance on personal hearing protection.”
An over-reliance on ear muffs/plugs and infrequent/incorrect use of these personal hearing protectors are two of the main contributors to effective noise control within workplaces, the report said.
Between July 2002 and June 2007 there were about 16,500 accepted workers’ compensation claims in Australia for deafness due to exposure to noise, and the manufacturing, construction and transport/storage industries accounted for 65 per cent of these claims.
Safe Work Australia said the preferred solution to excessive noise exposure is to completely eliminate the source of the loud noise.
However, when this is not possible or practical, the legal requirement is to minimise exposure through measures such as substituting the noise source with quieter machinery or processes, isolating the noise source from workers or applying engineering solutions such as fit mufflers or noise guards/enclosures.
Other solutions include scheduling noisy work for when fewest workers are present, providing signs and quiet areas for breaks, or providing ear muffs/plugs as a last resort, the report said.