Excessive noise is common in the construction industry, and noise levels should ideally be kept below 70 decibels on worksites.

Too much noise can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss – tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when sound receiving cells in the inner-ear are damaged.

Hearing damage occurs due to extended exposure to noise or a single, very loud, explosive noise. Once damage occurs it can’t be cured and will continue to worsen the longer a worker is exposed to excessive noise.

Sources of noise can include:

  • Plant and equipment (such as powertrains and engine exhausts)
  • Demolition works (such as rock breaking, building or concrete slab demolition)
  • Power tools
  • Explosive-powered tools
  • Heavy traffic adjacent to the worksite.

Noise exposure standards

There are two exposure standards for noise, under WHS Regulation:

  • LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A)
  • LC,peak of 140 dB(C)

LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) means that in an eight-hour shift, a worker can’t be exposed to more than 85 decibels of noise. The level of noise and how long a worker is exposed to the noise determines whether the exposure limit is exceeded.

LC,peak of 140 dB(C) is a limit for maximum single noise level. A peak noise level of 140 decibels can’t be exceeded. This type of noise level is often associated with high impact or explosive noises such as sledge-hammering or gun shots. Any exposure above this level can create almost instant hearing damage.

Control measures

Although noise on construction sites generally can’t be eliminated completely, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable with careful planning and good work design that reduces noise and limits exposure.

Before starting a job, consider whether there is a quieter way of doing the task or whether plant or equipment can be substituted for something quieter.

Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) shouldn’t be the only control you use – it should instead be used in conjunction with other controls. Hearing protection only works if it’s used and fitted correctly, and even then it only reduces exposure to the noise it doesn’t eliminate it completely.

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