Best Practices in Implementing a Hearing Conservation Program (Australia)

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Best Practices in Implementing a Hearing Conservation Program (Australia)
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Best Practices in Implementing a Hearing Conservation Program (Australia)

Create a successful Hearing Conservation Program through best practices.

 


 

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a major compensable industrial disease in Australia and results in substantial economic costs.

In Australia, the National Code of Practice for Noise Management and Protection of Hearing at Work [NOHSC:2009(2004)] provides practical guidance on how the national standard can be achieved. It requires that employees who have work areas with noise levels at or above 85dB(A) have, access to hearing protection on the job.

Implementing a Hearing Conservation Program may appear complicated, but there are a number of best practices safety managers can employ to ensure compliance with regulations and promote employee hearing safety.

Here is an overview of this regulation, along with best practices in implementation.

 

Noise Control and Planning

National Code

  • Policy. Using a sound level meter, take a general measurement of noise in each section of your facility.
  • Program of Action. Assign a member of management who will assume responsibility for duties such as: Noise hazard identification, required assessment. Decide on: possible engineering noise control measures, administrative controls, suitable HPDs, appropriate signage, employee training, audiometric testing, monitoring procedures, maintain relevant records, provide for periodic management review

Best Practices

  • Document Exposure. Each employees noise exposure should be recorded in his/her personnel file.
  • Document Changing Conditions. Whenever you make a change in equipment or process, you need to document this change, even if the noise level is reduced.

 

Noise Identification and Assessment

National Code

  • Noise Identification. Identification of workplace noise hazards enables immediate control measures to be put into place, and affected mployees to be assessed and monitored.
  • Noise Assessment. All workplaces where employees are exposed to 85dB(A) or greater should be assessed. Assessments should be repeated at intervals not exceeding 5 years or upon any change to the workplace including new machinery, changes to the building structure or extended shift hours.
  • Objectives. To identify all employees likely to be exposed to noise at or above 85dB(A). Obtain information on noise sources and work practices. Check the effectiveness of measures taken to minimise exposure. Assist in the selection of appropriate HPDs. Delineate hearing protector areas.
  • How to Carry out a Noise Assessment? In the case of tonal, high frequency or low frequency components, an octave band analysis may be required.
  • Instruments. Sound Level Meter: an instrument consisting of a microphone, amplifier and meter or display, designed to measure the sound pressure level. Sound Exposure Meter: an instrument for measuring noise exposure over time by automatically integrating sound energy thoughout a measurement period.

Best Practices

  • Employee noise exposures are best determined by wearing a Sound Exposure Meter for the entire workshift. The microphone should be located as close as practical to the worker's ear. A Sound Exposure Meter that records exposures under the hearing protector (such as the Howard Leight QuietDose in-ear dosimeter) provides the best available documentation of exposures for workers in noise.

 

Engineering Noise Control Measures

National Code

  • New Plant and Workplaces. The design and construction of new workplaces and installations should (as much as practical) attempt to limit noise exposure to noise.
  • Existing Plant & Workplaces. Noise exposure levels should be reduced below 85dB(A). This can be achieved by reducing noise at the source, or engineering treatment of the noise transmission path.
  • Engineering Treatment of the Source. The preferred method is to permanently remove the problem of excessive noise. This can be achieved by: elimination or replacement of noisy machinery, minor design changes to equipment, regular maintenance, noise barricading, separating, moving or isolating of the noise elements/components.
  • Engineered Treatment of the NoiseTransmission Path. When engineering controls at the source are not practical, treatment of the noise transmission path is the next choice. This includes distancing the noise, adding barriers, or placing acoustically absorbent materials to block the path of the noise.
  • Further Guidance. Refer to Australian & New Zealand Standards AS/NZS 1269.3 for more information. Review your local state regulations at www.howardleight.com/bestpractices/plan

Best Practices

  • Employing engineering controls is best practice when it comes to the hierarchy of noise exposure.

 

Personal Hearing Protectors

National Code

  • Hearing Protector Areas. Where engineering or administrative controls are unable to reduce exposure to below 85dB(A) for an 8 hour shift, employees should be supplied with, and wear effective personal hearing protectors. Areas of excessive noise should be sign posted, and their boundaries clearly defined.
  • Selection of Personal Hearing Protectors. Ensure personal hearing protectors will provide wearers with reliable adequate protection. Selection should be based upon - compliance with the Australia/NZ Standard AS/NZS 1270, degree of attenuation required, suitability in specific application, comfort, and safety.
  • Inspection and Maintenance. Employers should ensure that personal hearing protectors are regularly inspected and maintained, and report any damage or deterioration.
  • Training and Supervision. Employees should be given guidance in the selection of appropriate personal hearing protectors, including instructions for their use, fitting, care, maintenance and limitations.

Best Practices

  • Variety. Offer variety that conforms with job requirements. Including, single use, reuseable and banded earplugs, and earmuffs. Make access to HPDs convenient for employees.
  • Personal Attenuation Rating. Determine employees’ earplug fit effectiveness by using field verification systems such as VeriPRO®. Find out if they are receiving appropriate protection, provide additional fit training, or guide product selection.

 

Training

National Code

  • Training Objectives. Minimise NIHL and tinnitus by an approach that emphasises engineering controls, promotes understanding of the nature of noise and its related health effects, and promote the policy uptake.
  • Program Content. Training programs aimed at the reduction of NIHL should include topics such as: What is noise and its effects on hearing, social handicaps of NIHL, responsibilities of employees and employers, workplace noise control policies, nature and location of noise hazards, general & specific control measures, guidance in use of personal hearing protection, reporting noise changes, and the nature of audiometric testing.

Best Practices

  • Provide One-on-One Training. Studies have shown that this is the most effective method of optimising the attenuation of a HPD; especially earplugs. Continual exposure to education.
  • Display Educational, informative and motivational posters in common areas and near hearing protection sources. Offer toolbox trainings throughout the year.

 

Audiometric Testing

National Code

  • Purpose. The hearing of employees exposed to noise can be monitored through regular audiometric examinations. Any changes in hearing levels over time should be thoroughly investigated as to the cause, and the need for prevention.
  • Testing Scheme. Testing should be undertaken by appropriately trained personnel, using equipment that is in accordance with AS/NZS 1269.3 specifications. The audiometric testing scheme, should include a reference test with periodic monitoring and audiometric tests to follow.
  • Assessment of Audiograms. Audiograms should be assessed and action taken in accordance with section 9 of AS/NZS 1269.4 It should be noted that testing itself is not a preventative approach to Hearing Conservation.
  • Action to be Taken When Threshold Shift Detected. Actions may include review of the employees job to identify any changes which may have occurred, measures to reduce of the levels of noise and the duration of exposure, verify the performance of personal hearing protectors.
  • Updating of Reference Audiograms. Records: The reference audiogram should be updated whenever a significant permanent threshold shift has occurred or every 10 years, whichever occurs first.

Best Practices

  • Retain records from your testing service provider and keep in a safe, secure place, as a confidential document. This will be useful for trouble shooting and as reference for workers' compensation.
  • Review audiometric results immediately with employees - Studies show that doing this immediately after testing yields a more positive impact.