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FAQs about noise

How do I know if people at work are at risk of hearing damage from noise levels?

A noise assessment by a person with suitable qualifications and experience would need to be carried out to determine if a person was at risk of hearing damage from noise levels. Generally, as an informal guide, a workplace noise assessment should be considered when someone would need to raise their voice to talk with someone else one metre away.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and workers should see the Work Health and Safety Codes of Practice 2015 on ‘Managing noise and preventing hearing loss’ and ‘How to manage work health and safety risks’.

What are the legal limits on noise at work?

Part 4 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (WHS Regulations) prescribes the legal requirements for noise in the workplace. These requirements specify the exposure standards for noise. Regulation 56 describes the exposure standard for noise as:

  1. an eight-hour-equivalent continuous A-weighted sound pressure level, LAeq.8h, of 85 dB(A) referenced to 20 micropascals, or
  2. a C-weighted peak sound pressure level Lc,peak of 140 dB.

Essentially, this means workers exposed to continuous noise at 85 dB(A) are at risk of receiving hearing damage after eight hours of exposure. However, if the noise level is under 85 dB(A), or if the exposure time is shorter than eight hours, hearing damage is unlikely to occur.

Exposure to noise in excess of 140 dB may cause almost instantaneous hearing damage, so 140 dB is the highest level of noise to which people can be exposed in the workplace and, even then, only as a peak sound.

PCBUs and workers should see the Work Health and Safety Codes of Practice 2015 on ‘Managing noise and preventing hearing loss’ and ‘How to manage work health and safety risks’.

How long can someone be exposed to noise before it causes hearing damage?

It is important to understand that as noise levels increase, the amount of exposure time before being at risk of receiving hearing damage decreases exponentially. For every three-decibel increase in the noise level, the ‘safe’ exposure time halves.

While a worker exposed to a continuous noise level of 85 dB(A) is at risk of suffering hearing damage after eight hours, an employee exposed to a noise level of 88 dB(A) is at risk of hearing damage after only four hours, and a worker exposed to a noise level of 91 dB(A) is at risk after only two hours.

As a guide, here are some decibel levels of some common sounds:

Common soundsDecibel levels
30 metres from a jet aircraft140 dB(A)
Chainsaw110 dB(A)
Nightclub90–100 dB(A)
Kerbside of busy road70–80 dB(A)
Conversational speech50–60 dB(A)

What is the maximum level of noise allowable in an office environment?

The exposure standard prescribed in the WHS Regulations (see previous questions) applies to anyone working for a PCBU. The same standards apply for people working inside or outside an office.

However, while no one is likely to suffer hearing damage in a noisy office, noisy offices can be uncomfortable for workers and may pose or contribute to other problems, including production issues and increased stress levels.

PCBUs and workers should see the Work Health and Safety Codes of Practice 2015 on ‘Managing noise and preventing hearing loss’ and ‘How to manage work health and safety risks

Page last updated: 07 Jul 2016