5 ways to reduce risk of hearing loss
Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) is a major health and economic problem in Australia, with over 3,000 related workers’ compensation claims each year across industries such as construction, agriculture and manufacturing. But what can you do to keep your hearing safe?
According to Safe Work Australia, the most common cause of ONIHL is continuous exposure to loud noise over a long period.
As people respond differently to different sound levels, there is no set level at which noise will cause damage. But for most people, keeping exposure to 85dB and under over an eight-hour period should protect against long-term damage.
Workplaces need to have measures in place to ensure the protection of their employees’ hearing. Employees may not alert their supervisors about hearing loss (or even be aware of it), so it’s important for supervisory staff know what to look for.
Signs a worker may have hearing damage can include:
*REPEATEDLY asking people what they’ve said
*COCKING their head to the side to listen
*CHANGES in the worker’s voice volume
The first step is to make a preliminary assessment of your worksite to identify any sources of hazardous noise. Although you don’t need specialist skills to carry out an assessment like this, it helps to consult with affected workers and their health and safety representatives who understand the processes.
When conducting the assessment, you should be looking for:
*SOURCES of excessive noise
*WHICH workers will be exposed to excessive noise
*WORK practices that generate excessive noise
*WAYS to reduce noise levels
More complex workplaces with multiple sources of excessive noise should have assessments carried out by a competent person in accordance with Australian standard AS/NZS 1269.1 Measurement and assessment of noise emission and exposure.
Once these assessments have been carried out and noise sources identified, there is a hierarchy of control measures that can be used to limit noise levels in order of effectiveness.
1. Eliminating the noise source.
2. Substituting noisy machinery with quieter machinery or 'buying quiet' — this is a cost-effective way to control workplace noise at the source.
3. Engineering controls by treating the noise at the source or in its transmission path, such as using sound dampeners or silencers, noise barriers and isolation.
4. Introducing administrative noise control measures. For example, training and education, job rotation, job redesign or designing rosters to reduce the number of workers exposed to noise.
5. Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as earmuffs and earplugs. However, if workers are frequently required to wear PPE to reduce the risk of hearing loss from a noise exposure that exceeds the exposure standard, then an audiometric testing regime must be implemented.
Any measures implemented should be reviewed, and if necessary revised, on a regular basis to make sure they’re working as intended and to maintain a safe work environment.
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