When is noise not a hazard?
We are a manufacturing company (printing) and although our workplace has quite a bit of noise it does not exceed the 85dB minimum for compulsory hearing protection, and therefore, we do not enforce protection but strongly recommend it. Most workers don't use it. We do annual health checks that include hearing and over the years noise induced hearing loss has been quite limited.
My question is this, is noise a hazard in our factory and should it be included in the risk register with recommended controls?
The short answer is yes. Excessive noise is a hazard which is currently being controlled.
An increase in production, reconfiguration of machinery, introduction of new equipment and inadequate preventative maintenance schedules can all increase noise levels so what you have in place to mitigate against these factors should be included.
My question would be why are you carrying out hearing tests on workers if the noise is at an acceptable level?
I would go as far as saying that noise is always a hazard, but the risk it poses can be vastly different.
Remember that the accepted 85db is a time weighted average for an 8 hour shift - if your shifts are longer you should not rely on the <85dB threshold as being sufficient.
Also the frequency of the noise affects how damaging it is to hearing at a given dB - the regs are based on the dB(A) weighting (weighted around typical critical human hearing frequencies), so make sure you are using a sound meter that will analysis the input against that weighting.
As a responsible employer we do hearing, vision, blood pressure and lung function tests on our factory staff annually. This is because we have noise in the factory but also use hazardous substances. The question you pose as to why we are carrying out hearing tests on workers if the noise is at an acceptable level is basically the same question I have asked.
Hi Tony, I apologise that i missed that you are in the printing industry.
The use of some solvents (e.g. Toluene) can effect the inner ear causing hearing loss, so hearing tests are useful after all
Short answer is no.
Longer answer is "yes" under possible risks but later determined by measurement that there is no risk - so you close it off.
Given there is no risk no need to do the hearing checks - unless you want to do it as a good employer "wellness" type of thing. People loose their hearing for lots of reasons not related to work. My NIHL is due to hunting and Motorhead:)
Now back to the noise. And I'll use our plant as an example. We have some machines that exceed the Limit when all machines are working AND they are working on heavy gauge steel. One machine or lighter gauge its under the limit. As a matter of practice that immediate area is defined as a risk zone and hearing protection is required at all times. So Hearing checks are done.
But walk about 10m away and the noise levels start to drop away quite dramatically. The further away you are the quieter it is. (People in those outer areas don't get hearing checks). That's why I have dozens of noise measurements around the whole plant - done in "worse case" scenarios. I have a picture of all the different noise zones and apply required protection in each zone. In "quiet" zones ear plugs are provided if chosen - not on health and safety grounds, just on noise comfort grounds and being a kind employer.
You need to get your head around Hazard and Risk. Is a lion a hazard - yes. Is it a risk not always. If the lion is wandering the Serengeti and you are happily in your house at home the risk is low to zero.
Is noise a hazard - always. Is it a risk to health depends on the circumstances.
If you are asking this question then it is expected you have not had a competent person do the assessment. Any report by a competent person will answer this question.
It will also highlight other risks like the effect of ototoxins on your teams hearing. Did you know that some medication can affect a persons hearing. Some organisations a correction is made when staff are exposed to noise and ototoxins.
I suggest you consult this page.
Worksafe have some excellent resources here.
My initial thought is that the 85dB levels are all about protecting hearing. However, if you are working below that threshold but find it a relief when you leave the noise zone then the noise is a hazard to stress levels and may need to be treated from that perspective also. (which is way more subjective than dB readings!)
However to answer your question directly: The fact that you raise it for discussion means that it is a hazard!
So yes, include it in your risk register. It may end up ranking quite low compared to other risks, as Stuart K-K says it depends on where the lion is, but putting it on the register allows visibility to other people that it has been considered, it has been rated and that it is on the register to be reviewed whenever your review dates are.
I completely agree with Trudy that you need to not just consider the immediate health effects of the noise, but also to consider the other effects of noise... Noise also contributes to stress, can make concentrated work and cognitive effort more difficult, and contributes to fatigue. It can make communication difficult, and this can contribute to musculoskeletal health risks (as can stress), and it can create related safety concerns, while raised voices can contribute to vocal health risks.
It is always important to ensure that you are also doing what you can to eliminate the noise at source - rather than just accepting that the noise is something unavoidable to work with. Ensure that noisy machinery is well maintained, mounted properly, and sound-proofing etc used appropriately. The noise may be more avoidable than you think.
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