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HEARING PROTECTION, MANAGING EXCESS NOISE AT WORK, and the PROBLEM of PERSONAL MUSIC DEVICES Author: Gabrielle Condon - CC Safety. 3 June 2024


Here in the world of safety, we have heard a lot of discussion lately about personal protective equipment (PPE) for protecting your hearing from noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), in the workplace.


There are many risks to health in having NIHL; it is permanent, it can get worse with continued exposure due to damage to the protective cilia (hair cells) in the ears, it can mean you do not hear certain tones such as high-pitched sounds and some lower pitches, and you can get debilitating tinnitus (ringing in the ears.)

There have also been recent studies stating NIHL may affect mental cognitive abilities, and even accelerate the risk of developing dementia.


Safety Regulations have been updated in Australia to ensure those exposed to noisy environments where they must wear PPE to protect their hearing, must be audiometrically tested within 3 months of starting their role, and all workers exposed to excess noise are tested every two years.


PERSONAL MUSIC DEVICES ear buds, ipods etc. in a noisy work environment.

In managing safety, there are currently no ways for a manager to control the noise level a worker is exposed to when using a personal music device. Work health and safety is a business leader’s legal responsibility to manage risk in the workplace and provide safe systems of work, and it is a worker’s legal responsibility to look after their own safety also, and to follow reasonable instruction.


 Unfortunately, the recent adoption of personal devices is NOT considered a compliant control as they are not noise-rated and will not protect the user from excessive industrial noise and may even lead to further damage to hearing.  As well as this, workers are highly distracted when phone calls are incoming through these devices, and this is not conducive to a safe and productive workplace.


Exposure Levels -Without getting a professional sound level meter for measuring environmental decibels, SafeWork Australia notes that:

 “…if a worker must raise their voice to talk to someone 1 metre away, the noise level is probably too high. The noise level should be lower than: 

·        50 decibels, if your work involves high concentration or lots of conversation, and 

·        70 decibels, if your work is routine, fast-paced and demands attentiveness, and you need to have conversations “

 

There is a rated noise exposure system explain the decibel limits causing permanent hearing loss i.e., A sudden 140 decibels sound (e.g. some heavy industrial machinery such as metal stamping presses, OR   8 hours at 85 decibels, and this hazard level changes depending on exposure and time exposed e.g. 91 decibels over two hours is the same as 85 decibels over eight hours!

For common examples, a lawnmower is 85 decibels, a jackhammer can be up to 130 decibels. It would not take too long for exposure to a jackhammer to cause permanent damage.


For further information, please visit Approved Code of Practice “Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work” December 2022


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