Setting up a hearing conservation program
Putting it all together
Set up a hearing conservation programme that has a long term goal of preserving workers hearing. The program should form part of your wider health and safety policy, and be tailored to the needs of your business and workers.
Your programme should focus on doing what is so far as is reasonably practicable to eliminate noise at the source, or where elimination isn't possible, minimse noise risks. Include processes to check that the control measures you put in place are being used by your workers and are effective. Review your work activities to identify, assess and control noise risks. Do your activities still work, or is there a quieter way to achieve the same outcome?
Make sure workers and managers are aware of their responsibilities in managing noise, and protecting their own and others hearing.
A simple walk around your workplace can help you identify any noise problems in your work. It’s also a good time to identify any machinery that needs to be replaced or maintained.
Can a better control be used to reduce noise levels?
Engage workers who may be exposed to hazardous noise levels on a daily basis, HSRs and a competent person who is trained in carrying out noise assessments. Workers can help identify problem noise areas that may not be obvious.
Identify the problem:
- Where is the noise coming from?
- What are the characteristics of the noise – is it continuous or intermittent?
- How loud is it perceived to be?
- Is the noise direct, or reflected or both?
- Are there specific times of the day or tasks that contribute to the noise?
- How many workers are exposed to the noise?
There are several free apps that can turn your phone into a mobile sound level meter. These are a useful tool for raising awareness about noise levels in your workplace and to identify sources of hazardous noise. But, you should only use these apps as an indicator of whether noise could be a problem in your workplace.
See how Goodnature used a mobile app to test noise levels and find a problem noise source.
Once you have identified a noise problem, engage an acoustical consultant to carry out a detailed noise exposure assessment. A consultant will carry out precise sound measurements. They may be able to:
- assist in noise control measures
- help you identify areas where you can implement simple and cost effective solutions (for example, changing to a quieter process)
To find a consultant who is experienced in noise exposure assessments, check the HASANZ register(external link).
Prioritising noise control for existing noise sources
One way to prioritise noise reduction is to ask your noise consultant to use the noise exposure index (NEI). The NEI is used to rank noise sources by looking at the number of workers who have similar noise exposures, and their level of exposure.
Noise sources that present the highest risk of exposure to workers should be controlled first.
Depending on your workplace, you may also have noise sources that emit high levels of noise, even if the duration of exposure to the noise is low. This can happen when:
- workers need to operate a noisy machine or complete a noisy task from time to time and they are exposed to short bursts of loud noise, or
- if workers need to maintain machinery located in a noisy area.
Depending on the noise control method you’re implementing, you may need to get the help of an expert or a contractor. An expert can help you design the noise control solution, and a contractor can help you install the control. When implementing your chosen control, check that it doesn’t affect your workers access to the noisy equipment or machine, their comfort and productivity.
Simple control methods which don’t need an expert or contractor can be implemented straight away.
Once you’ve implemented the control, you’ll need to train your workers in the noise control method. Workers also need to need to understand:
- the risks to their health if they are exposed to hazardous noise levels
- any policies you have implemented as a result of the hearing conservation programme
- how they can suggest noise control solutions
- how to use any hearing protection if they need it.
Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
Exposure and health monitoring are an important part of making sure your workers aren’t being harmed by noise levels at your work.
Exposure monitoring means measuring the levels of noise in your work, and deciding if they could be harmful to your workers’ hearing. For noise, this is a detailed noise assessment.
Exposure monitoring needs to be done by a competent person(external link), such as an occupational hygienist.
Why should you do exposure monitoring
Information from exposure monitoring is used to manage health risks. This includes risks from exposure to hazardous noise levels.
Use exposure monitoring to:
- identify, confirm or assess noise risks
- check that your workers’ exposure to hazardous noise levels is being controlled
- identify when control measures need to be reviewed.
Use the information from exposure monitoring and any reviews of your control measures to improve how you’re managing noise levels in your work.
When setting up a monitoring programme
- Involve your workers in the decisions about monitoring. Establish a culture in your work for workers to give feedback.
- Review the characteristics of your workplace (eg size, number of workers, equipment used).
- Talk to an expert to see if hearing tests for workers are needed to identify early signs of hearing loss. Your workers must give consent before they participate in any hearing tests.
Health monitoring means monitoring a person to identify any negative changes in their health. For noise, this is audiometric testing (a type of hearing test).
Who should carry out health monitoring?
Health monitoring needs to be done by a competent person. This is someone who knows how to carry out the monitoring and tell you what the results mean.
For hearing tests, talk to a competent health practitioner(external link), for example an occupational health nurse, occupational physician or an audiologist.
Why should you do health monitoring?
The purpose of health monitoring is to:
- make sure that the health of workers is not being harmed from exposure to hazardous noise while carrying out work
- detect early signs of noise induced hearing loss
- help treat and protect workers who have been exposed to hazardous noise levels.
Evaluate your programme to make sure it is successful
Schedule noise assessments at regular intervals (every 5 years) or following any changes to your equipment or processes that may increase the risk of your workers being exposed to hazardous noise levels. For example, you may need a detailed noise assessment if:
- you get new equipment
- a change in the speed of the machine creates excess noise or vibration
- workers increase their hours, and are exposed to the noise source for longer
- a change to the layout or structure of the building increases noise levels.
You will need to get in a competent person to measure noise levels.
- Keep records of your detailed noise assessments for at least 10 years.
- Review your control measures to see if controls at source are prioritised over less effective controls such as hearing protection. A good way to do this to check how much has been budgeted and spent on noise assessments compared to buying, maintaining and replacing hearing protection.
- Identify any changes you need to make to equipment, processes or control measures.