Protecting employees from exposure to noise
Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees. This duty includes protecting employees from exposure to noise. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) set a noise exposure standard measured in units called decibels (dB). The noise exposure standard is an 8-hour average of 85 dB(A) and a peak noise level of 140 dB(C) at the employee's ear position.
Exposure to noise that exceeds the standard is considered dangerous to employees’ hearing. Employers must ensure employees' exposure to noise does not exceed the noise exposure standard.
If there is uncertainty about whether noise exposure exceeds or may exceed the standard, employers must determine an employee's exposure to noise in the workplace. When determining noise exposure, employers must not take into account the effect of any hearing protectors employees may be using.
Employers must take into account:
- the level of noise to which employees are exposed
- the duration of the exposure
- plant and other sources of noise at the workplace
- systems of work at the workplace
- any other relevant factors
Information about employers' duties is available on the WorkSafe website, including the Noise compliance code. The Noise compliance code provides practical guidance on how to comply with obligations under Victoria's occupational health and safety legislation to manage risks associated with workplace noise exposure.
Use the hierarchy of control
The hierarchy of control is a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. It ranks risk controls from the highest level of protection and reliability through to the lowest.
Employers must control noise in line with the following hierarchy of control measures:
- eliminate the source of noise
- substitute noisy plant with quieter plant or processes, isolate the plant or use engineering controls
- use administrative controls
- provide hearing protection
Employers must apply each level of the hierarchy so far as reasonably practicable before moving down to the next control measure. This means employers cannot go straight to hearing protection to control the noise without applying the higher-level control measures, so far as reasonably practicable.
It is often necessary to use a combination of control measures to effectively control noise.
The following step-by-step approach and the noise control worksheet may help employers control noise in their workplace. Employers should have a good understanding of the operation of their plant and processes before they start. This may help them work out the best way to reduce the noise in their workplace. Employers can also use this step-by-step approach to review plant and processes and the layout of the workplace.
Develop a checklist and a layout map of the workplace. A PDF worksheet is available for download on this page under the heading Workplace noise control worksheet. The worksheet may help employers identify the source of noise and implement controls.
Carry out a general workplace inspection to identify significant sources of noise and the actual cause or type of noise. Types of noise can include:
- impact noise
- mechanical vibration
- air/fluid noise
- compressed air noise
- pneumatic tools noise
- saw noise
- grinder noise
- noise from gears and motors
Rank or prioritise the noise sources to be controlled. Take into account:
- level of noise
- duration of employee exposure
- number of employees exposed
Noise levels may be ranked by taking noise measurements or by their relative 'loudness'. When there are multiple noise sources operating at the same time, it may be necessary to run each piece of plant or process separately.
List all reasonably practicable control measures for each source of noise, in line with the hierarchy of control. WorkSafe's Noise Control Worksheet in this guidance includes noise control options which may be suitable for different sources or types of noise.
Trial control measures to work out if they are likely to be effective. For example:
- observe noise levels at different distances from plant
- move employees away from the plant or vice-versa
- trial temporary barriers or enclosures using common materials such as MDF or chipboard
- seal off gaps in existing enclosures and observe the difference in noise
- test different insulation materials such as foam, glass wool or rock-wool of different density and thicknesses inside any existing or new mock-up enclosures and barriers
- test absorbent lining inside any ventilation ducts or tubes using wire to hold it in place
- test/observe reduced drop heights or angles for objects coming off a production process
- trial/observe different silencers or nozzles for compressed air noise
- trial different materials such as wire mesh for collection bins instead of sheet metal
- test the effects of damping to reduce impact noise or reduce vibration of surfaces
- trial different materials to cushion impact
Check employees' exposure to noise after implementing controls, including quick-fix options such for compressed air or impact noise controls. Engage a qualified person, such as an occupational health and safety consultant, to help with risk controls if workplace noise is excessive or continues to exceed the exposure standard.
If there is uncertainty whether employees’ exposure to noise may exceed the exposure standard, employers must determine employees’ exposure to noise or put additional controls in place to remove any uncertainty.
Noise control worksheet
WorkSafe's noise control worksheet may help employers identify the source of noise and implement controls.