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Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss (excluding acoustic shock) results primarily from continuous exposure to noise levels for a number of years. The industries most susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss in Comcare's jurisdiction include transport, construction and Defence.

Did you know?

  • Noise is considered excessive when you need to raise your voice to be heard by someone a metre away. The Code of Practice Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss  at Work, provides information to address noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace.
  • Normal speech occurs at around 60 decibels (dB)
  • Occupational noise accounts for about 10 per cent of adult onset hearing loss.1
  • Hearing loss is gradual and accumulates over time.
  • Exposure to excessive noise can also affect psychological health including anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleeplessness, affect memory and decision making.2
  • Most people don't take hearing loss seriously, as it is not life-threatening and they have a lack of knowledge of the full nature of the disability.
  • Hearing loss is greatest during the first 10 years of exposure.

Some examples of noise levels include:

  • Noise made by a truck is about 83dB (noting modern trucks are becoming quieter), turn on the radio you increase the sound by another 2 to 3dB, wind down the window and this adds another 1.3dB.
  • chain saw - 110dB
  • front end loader - 85dB
  • jet engine at 30m - 140dB
  • whispering - 30db
  • artillery fire - 162dB
  • At 130db pain can start to be felt.

What can I do?

The person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU), managers and supervisors need to identify sources of noise in the workplace and apply hazard control principles to eliminate or reduce risk from exposure to noise. See the 'Action table for PCBU's, managers and supervisors' below for some actions you can take.

Action table for PCBU's, managers and supervisors

Objects/Source HazardAction
Noise
  • An average weighted exposure of 85dB over eight hours can lead to hearing loss.
  • Hearing damage occurs at higher frequencies first (4000 to 8000 hertz) and can be detected by appropriate testing.
  • Exposure over time increases the risk of hearing loss. For example, truck drivers generally work more than eight hours per day and are exposed to close to and over the 85dB limit. In order to continue to work more than eight hours, the dB exposure level needs to be reduced.
  • Identify sources of noise. This may require testing of some work environments.
  • Create a noise control plan.
  • Eliminate hazards - control the noise at the source and don't rely on personal hearing protection.
  • Training on sources of risk and consequences for workers to change their risk perception to take the risk seriously.
  • Encourage workers to value their hearing; they can't get it back when it's gone.
  • Conduct audiometric testing (required by the legislation in certain circumstances).
  • Where personal hearing protection is provided, make sure it is comfortable, fits the wearer properly and doesn't block out warning sirens or signals.
  • Supervise staff wearing personal hearing protection.
  • Limit time of exposure where the noise cannot be controlled at the source.
Vibration
  • Noise is usually experienced at the same time as vibration (for example, driving trucks, using large power tools).
  • A worker experiencing hand-arm vibration combined with exposure to noise may be more likely to suffer hearing loss.
  • Replace equipment with items that create less vibration.
  • If it is not reasonable to replace equipment, install dampers or vibration isolation pads.

As a worker you need to be alert to the fact that you need to take action now in order to avoid occupational hearing loss from noise where you work. You may not notice a decline in your hearing until it is too late. Age related hearing loss is inevitable; however, avoiding excessive levels of noise exposure will compound the level of hearing loss. See the 'Action table for workers' below for some actions you can take.

Action table for workers

Objects/Source Symptom/Hazard Action
Noise Symptoms associated with noise-induced hearing loss3
  • muffled or muted sounds
  • missing certain sounds in conversation
  • 'ringing ' or 'buzzing ' in the ear
  • difficulty hearing conversations when there is background noise
  • complete hearing loss in one or both ears.
  • If you work in a noisy environment you should regularly check to see if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, what noises are there?
  • If you think there is a noise issue raise the problem with your supervisor/manager or Health and Safety Representative.
  • As a general rule, if you need to raise your voice to be heard by someone a metre away, you need hearing protection.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • reliance on PPE as the primary means of noise minimisation
  • personal hearing protection in the form of earmuffs or ear plugs may not be suitable to the job.
  • Wear hearing protection where is it provided.
  • Check the device before using to make sure it is in good working order, report it to your supervisor/manager if it is not.
  • Get instructions on how to use the device properly. If earplugs fall out you have not inserted them properly.

Use these resources to manage the risk associated with noise-induced hearing loss.

Resources

Information Source Contents
Work Health and Safety    Regulations 2011 The legal requirements to manage the risk of hearing loss from noise and to conduct audiometric testing of workers.
Model    Code of Practice Managing Noise and Preventing    Hearing Loss at Work Practical guidance to achieving the legislative requirements, such as how to conduct a noise assessment and suggested control measures.
Occupational Noise-induced Hearing Loss in Australia Report describing the outcomes of the key factors (barriers and enablers) that influence the effective control of occupational noise and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss. The findings aim to assist stakeholders design, implement and evaluate strategies and interventions to effectively control noise.

1Safe Work Australia, Occupational Noise-induced  hearing Loss in Australia, Safe Work Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 1.

2ibid., p. 12.

3http://www.industrialdeafnesswatch.co.uk/guide/symptoms

Page last updated: 05 May 2017