Excessive noise is expected in the construction industry and can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss – tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when sound receiving cells in the inner ear are damaged.
Hearing damage occurs due to extended exposure to noise or a single, very loud, explosive noise. Once damage occurs, it can’t be cured and will continue to worsen the longer a worker is exposed to excessive noise.
Sources of noise can include:
- Plant and equipment (such as powertrains and engine exhausts)
- Demolition works (such as rock breaking, building or concrete slab demolition)
- Power tools
- Explosive-powered tools
- Heavy traffic adjacent to the worksite.
What is the impact of increasing noise in the workplace?
Zero decibels (0 dB) is the quietest sound audible to a healthy human ear. From there, every increase of 3 dB represents a doubling of noise intensity. For example, noise measured at 88 dB(A) is double the intensity of noise measured at 85 dB(A).
The risk of suffering damage resulting in hearing loss increases with prolonged or additional exposure to the noise.
There are many noisy tasks involved in construction work, which means that workers may be exposed to the noise that their work is making and the ambient or background noise that others are making on-site. The workers at risk of serious injury include those using:
- impact equipment and tools (for example, piling hammers, concrete breakers, manual hammers)
- explosives (for example, blasting, cartridge tools)
- pneumatically powered equipment (for example, nail guns)
- plant powered by internal combustion engines
What are the workplace noise exposure standards?
Ideally, noise levels should be kept below 70 decibels on worksites. Under WHS Regulation, there are two exposure standards for noise:
- LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A)
- LC,peak of 140 dB(C)
LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) means that a worker can’t be exposed to more than 85 decibels of noise in an eight-hour shift. The noise level and how long a worker is exposed to the noise determine whether the exposure limit is exceeded.
LC, peak of 140 dB(C) is a limit for maximum single noise level. A peak noise level of 140 decibels can’t be exceeded. This type of noise level is often associated with high impact or explosive noises such as sledge-hammering or gunshots. Any exposure above this level can create almost instant hearing damage.
What are the best control measures for workplace noise?
Although noise on construction sites generally can’t be eliminated completely, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable with careful planning and good work design that reduces noise and limits exposure.
Before starting a job, consider whether there is a quieter way of doing the task or whether plant or equipment can be substituted for something quieter.
PPE shouldn’t be the only control you use – it should be used in conjunction with other controls. Hearing protection only works if it’s used and fitted correctly, and even then, it only reduces exposure to the noise it doesn’t eliminate it completely.
Who is responsible for controlling hazardous noise?
It is essential to understand that occupational noise and environmental noise are two separate issues. They must be considered individually, as well a together.
Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) who own, hire or operate plant or equipment in the construction industry must ensure as far as reasonably practicable that the plant or equipment operates below the noise exposure standard.
PCBUs involved in the management or control of workplaces must also ensure that all plant or equipment operates below the noise exposure standard so far as is reasonably practicable.
Workers must take reasonable care of their own and others health and safety and co-operate to make the workplace safe. This includes following WHS policies and procedures and wearing hearing protection if provided.
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SOURCE: Master Builders