Policy

Hearing Conservation - Policy

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1. Purpose and Objectives

Exposure to noise is known to have an adverse effect on health, in particular, hearing. This policy deals with managing noise exposure at The University of Queensland.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

NIHL - noise-induced hearing loss

3. Policy Scope/Coverage

This policy applies to all University staff whose service with the University exposes them to excessive noise or nuisance noise.

4. Policy Statement

In line with the University's Occupational Health & Safety policy (PPL 2.10.03) and the statutory obligation under the Work Health & Safety Act 2011, the University is committed to the control of workplace noise and the reduction of noise-related health problems (particularly NIHL) amongst staff, students, and visitors.

The University will achieve this through the implementation of a comprehensive hearing conservation programme which includes monitoring, control and audiological testing of staff who are exposed to excessive noise.
 

5. Types of Noise

5.1 Excessive noise

Excessive noise is defined in Part 12 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 as noise above –

(a)   an 8 hour equivalent continuous A-weighted sound pressure level of 85dB(A); or

(b)   a C-weighted peak sound pressure level of 140dB(C).

The most significant health concern associated with excessive noise exposure is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) or ‘industrial deafness’.

5.2 Nuisance noise

Nuisance noise is that which is perceived as annoying, irrespective of daily exposure. High levels of background noise for example from computers and scientific instrumentation can interfere with verbal communication and affect work efficiency. Certain types of sound, (e.g. high pitched, irregular, intermittent, or rhythmic) may be sufficiently irritating to cause psychological distress and accompanying physical symptoms.

The risk to health and well being from nuisance noise exposure is more subject to individual variation than other workplace hazards, therefore the absence of complaint from other workers should not be used to dismiss an affected workers concerns.

Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael

Guidelines

Hearing Conservation - Guidelines

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1. Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this guideline is to prevent the occurrence of noise induced hearing loss for employees and other related stakeholders at The University of Queensland.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

OHS - Occupational health and safety

OHNA - Occupational Health Nurse Advisor

Excessive noise - The current exposure standard for noise is defined in Part 4.1(56) of the Queensland Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 as noise above an 8 hour equivalent continuous A-weighted sound pressure level of 85dB(A) or a C-weighted peak sound pressure level of 140dB(C). Workers exposed to noise levels above this exposure standard are likely to suffer significant noise induced hearing loss over their working lifetime.

NIHL - Noise-induced hearing loss

Nuisance noise - Is that which is perceived as annoying, irrespective of daily exposure. High levels of background noise, for example from computers and scientific instrumentation, can interfere with verbal communication and affect work efficiency. Certain types of sound (e.g. high-pitched, irregular, intermittent, or rhythmic) may be sufficiently irritating to cause psychological distress and accompanying physical symptoms.

Industrial deafness - Noise-induced hearing loss as a result of being exposed to excessive noise in the workplace.

3. Guidelines Scope/Coverage

This guideline applies to all workers, students, staff, volunteers and contractors who are either exposed to excessive or nuisance noise or who perform tasks that generate excessive or nuisance noise in the workplace.

4. Guidelines Statement

Exposure to noise is known to have an adverse effect on health, in particular, hearing. The University of Queensland is committed to managing the risks associated with noise in the workplace as far as is reasonably practicable. The Hearing Conservation Program at The University of Queensland aims to promote the reduction of noise-related health problems amongst staff, students, and visitors at UQ. This guideline deals with managing noise exposure in accordance with the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work: Code of Practice 2011.

5. The University of Queensland Hearing Conservation Program

5.1 Excessive noise exposure

The most significant health concern associated with excessive noise exposure is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) or ‘industrial deafness’. Managing the risks associated with noise will assist in protecting workers from hearing loss. Noise hazards exist in many areas on University campuses. This includes noise from construction and refurbishment undertakings that can affect the occupants of nearby buildings. It is not usually possible to eliminate all noise hazards from existing workplaces however, implementation of high order control measures, such as engineering or substitution, should always be the preferred control option before relying on less effective control measures such as hearing protection which requires continual worker compliance to be effective. The hierarchy of controls for noise is detailed in section 5.5.1 of this guideline.

5.2 Nuisance noise

The risk to health and well-being from nuisance noise exposure is more subject to individual variation than other workplace hazards, but it is important that the absence of complaint from other workers does not diminish the significance of an affected worker's concerns. Noise at levels that do not damage hearing can have other adverse effects. Persistent noise that interferes with communication or concentration can result in an increased risk of fatigue and cardiovascular problems.

It is recommended to reduce noise levels below :

  • 50dB(A) where work is being carried out that requires high concentration or effortless conversation.
  • 70 dB(A) where more routine work is performed that requires speed or attentiveness or where it is important to carry on conversations.

5.3 Other hearing hazards

5.3.1 Ototoxic substances

Exposure to some chemicals can cause hearing loss, however hearing loss is more likely to occur when a worker is exposed to ototoxic substances combined with exposure to noise. A list of ototoxic substances that are commonly used in workplaces is available in Appendix A of the Workplace Health and Safety, Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work: Code of Practice 2011. Control measures such as substitution, isolation and local ventilation should be implemented to eliminate or minimise chemical exposures. Personal protective equipment should be employed to prevent skin or respiratory absorption when other controls do not provide sufficient protection.

5.3.2 Vibration

Workers who use equipment that generates hand-arm vibrations and noise are more likely to develop hearing loss. Tools that expose workers to both noise and hand-arm vibration include the following:

  • pneumatic and electrical rotary tools such as concrete breakers, sanders, grinders and drills
  • percussive tools such as chippers and rivetters
  • petrol-powered tools such as lawn mowers, brush cutters and chainsaws.

Control measures to reduce hand-arm vibration includes exploring alternative methods of work to exclude the need to use vibrating equipment, or may include purchasing tools that produce less vibration.

5.4 Hazard identification and risk assessment

The identification, control and ongoing management of noise hazards should be carried out in accordance with the Code of Practice for Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work (2011). The process within the University framework is as follows:

  • A potential noise hazard is identified by workers or through workplace assessments and OHS auditing.
  • The risk to health is assessed by staff of the Occupational Health and Safety Division. This will involve a noise survey of the area as well as assessing personal noise exposure for affected workers where required.
  • Control strategies must be implemented in accordance with the hierarchy of controls as described in section 5.5.1, but consideration must be given to the severity and frequency of exposure compared to the cost of the control.
  • Ongoing overview of noisy workplaces should be undertaken with reassessment of worker exposure if significant changes to the workplace occur. In the case of minimal workplace changes, reassessment of worker exposure should be carried out every five years and compared to the current occupational standards.

5.5 Noise control

Effective control of risk from workplace noise can often involve more than one single control measure and may require a combination of two or more different controls.

5.5.1 The hierarchy of controls for noise

Elimination - new plant and workplaces

The most effective control measure is to eliminate the source of noise completely, for example by ceasing to use a noisy machine, changing the way work is carried out so hazardous noise is not produced or by not introducing the hazard into the workplace. New workplaces and installation sites for new plant in existing workplaces should be designed and constructed to ensure that exposure to noise is as low as practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the source of noise, you must minimise the risk.

Substituting plant or processes to reduce noise

Buy ‘quiet’ - One of the most cost-effective and long-term ways of reducing noise at work is to introduce a purchasing and hiring policy to choose the quietest plant for the job.

Noise emission data should be obtained from suppliers to enable the plant with the lowest practicable* noise level to be selected. Section 7.5 in the Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work: Code of Practice 2011 provides a structured format for the purchaser seeking information about noise emission values of plant.

*Practicability with respect to control measures should be determined in consultation with the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) for the work group and the Occupational Health and Safety Division, taking into account:

  • the nature of the work
  • the severity of the potential harm to health and the degree of risk that exists
  • the frequency of exposure to noise hazard
  • the availability and suitability of ways to prevent or mitigate the risk
  • whether the cost of preventing or mitigating the risk is prohibitive in the circumstances.

Engineering controls - existing plant and workplaces

A good understanding of the operation of the plant or process is necessary when considering ways of minimising noise at its source. Where practicable, engineering solutions should be implemented to reduce noise at source and along the path of transmission.

Examples of engineering control measures include:

  • eliminating impacts between hard objects or surfaces
  • minimising the drop height of objects or the angle that they fall onto hard surfaces
  • using absorbent lining on surfaces to cushion the fall or impact of objects
  • fitting exhaust mufflers on internal combustion engines
  • fitting silencers to compressed air exhausts and blowing nozzles
  • isolating a vibrating noise source to separate it from the surface on which it is mounted using rubber mounts and flexible connections
  • ensuring gears mesh together better
  • fixing damping materials (such as rubber) or stiffening to panels to reduce vibration
  • fitting sound-absorbing materials to hard reflective surfaces
  • turning down volume controls
  • changing fan speeds or the speeds of particular components
  • changing the material, the equipment or its parts are made of (change metal components to plastic components).

Isolating the source of noise

Examples of isolating the source of noise from workers include:

  • building enclosures or sound-proof covers around noise sources
  • using barriers or screens to block the direct path of sound
  • locating noise sources further away from workers
  • using remote controls to operate noisy plant from a distance.

Administrative controls

Administrative noise control measures reduce the time of exposure to a noisy hazard. Where practicable the following strategies should be implemented:

  • staff rotation
  • organising schedules so that noisy work is done when only a few workers are present
  • notifying workers and others in advance of noisy work so they can limit their exposure
  • keeping workers out of noisy areas if their work does not require them to be there
  • sign-posting noisy areas and restricting access
  • providing quiet areas for rest breaks
  • equipment maintenance programs
  • purchase of “quiet” plant only
  • redesign/refurbish to minimise noise exposure.

Areas where excessive noise cannot be practicably controlled by engineering or administrative strategies shall be designated ‘hearing protection areas’ and require signposting with a 'white on blue' earmuffs symbol.

No staff member, student, or visitor should enter a hearing protection area during normal operation, even for brief periods, unless they wear appropriate personal hearing protection. Regular checks on worker compliance with the wearing of hearing protection should be made.

If administrative controls are relied on for reducing noise exposure then these should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are being complied with and are effective.

Provision of hearing protection

Ear muffs or plugs providing suitable attenuation should be provided to staff and maintained by the school/organisational unit. Personal hearing protectors should be selected and maintained in accordance with AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational noise management- hearing protector program. Advice on appropriate selection of protective equipment is also available from the Occupational Health and Safety Division. Occupational hygiene advisors from the Division should be consulted on the correct fitting of the hearing protection provided.

In cases where students are required to work in hearing protection areas, the school/organisational unit has authority to decide who should provide suitable hearing protection. Students should be provided with information regarding the noise levels and the requirement for suitably attenuated hearing protection. The hearing protection must be correctly fitted and worn throughout the duration of period of noise exposure, otherwise its effectiveness will be greatly reduced.

The provision of hearing protection should not be considered as an alternative to engineering or administrative controls. Hearing protection is poorly tolerated, especially in warm climates, and should therefore always be considered as a last choice or a supplementary measure.

5.6 Temporary excessive noise

Where the Head of School and/or the Director, Occupational Health and Safety determines that situations involving temporary excessive noise exist (e.g. construction or maintenance work) and such noise interferes with work performance, the following procedures apply:

  • all practicable measures to control the noise should be implemented
  • where the noise cannot be practicably controlled (by measures outlined in 5.5.1) occupants should be advised and assisted to relocate to other work areas.

6. Hearing Tests

The hearing of UQ staff exposed to noise can be monitored through regular audiometric examinations. Audiometric testing is an important part of managing the risks from workplace noise exposure.

6.1 New appointees

Commencing audiometric testing before staff are exposed to hazardous noise provides a baseline as a reference for future audiometric tests. All new appointees to the University who are required to work in, or in the vicinity of, excessive noise are required to undergo an initial full reference audiometric test within the first three months of their appointment. This will be conducted at the School/Faculty/Institute's expense.

6.2 Ongoing testing

Consequent hearing testing for employees who continue to work in, or in the vicinity of, excessive noise are required to undertake a hearing test on at least a two-yearly basis. These tests should be undertaken well into the work shift so that any temporary hearing loss can be detected. A full reference assessment will be conducted every 10 years and employees must undergo an exit examination on leaving employment with UQ. Full review assessments may also be required if any significant changes in hearing thresholds are noted. This test will be conducted at the School/Faculty/Institute's expense. It is the School/Faculty/Institute's responsibility to ensure compliance with this program and the OH&S Division will follow-up with any non-compliance issues.

6.3 Referrals

To initiate a referral for a hearing test, the employee’s supervisor must complete the ‘Initial Hearing Test’ form and forward it to the Occupational Health Nurse Advisor (OHNA), Occupational Health and Safety Division. The UQ Health and Rehabilitation Clinic - Audiology Clinic or OH&S Division will then contact the employee to arrange an appointment.

For 2 yearly review assessments a ‘Follow-up Hearing Test Referral Form’, needs to be completed for each employee by their respective School/Faculty/Institute and returned to the OHNA before a hearing test appointment will be scheduled.

Employees enrolled in the hearing conservation program will be offered an exit hearing test on leaving employment with UQ or shortly after. The employee's supervisor will be advised to complete an Exit Hearing Test referral form and return it to the OHNA who will proceed to organise a full reference audiometric test appointment.

Hearing test referral forms are located in the forms tab of this PPL topic.

6.4 Audiometric testing

The UQ School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences - Audiology Clinic at the St Lucia campus and other external service providers at the Gatton campus will perform audiometric testing and assessment of audiograms in accordance with the procedures outlined in AS/NZS 1269.4:2005 – Occupational noise management - Auditory assessment.

The Occupational Health Nurse Advisor will provide a copy of the audiometric testing results to the employee following the assessment.

6.5 Results

Hearing test results that are reported by the audiologist to be outside the parameters for normal hearing will be assessed by the OHNA under the supervision of appropriate expert advice. In the case of abnormal results the OHNA will contact the employee and provide advice about appropriate follow-up. In the case of non-work related abnormalities, this advice may include referral to the employee's own general practitioner. The results of follow-up testing will be forwarded to the employee accompanied by a written explanation of the results. At the time of the hearing test, employees will be requested to fill out a consent form for their confidential data to be used to provide feedback to supervisors and the OH&S Division.

7. Education and Training

Staff and students who are required to work in hearing protection areas will receive education in all aspects of this guideline, to ensure that they understand the health risks associated with noise exposure, and that they comply with the guideline.

8. Industrial Deafness

8.1 Diagnosed industrial deafness

Employees diagnosed with industrial deafness may have acquired this through exposure to excessive noise in the University work environment, at a previous place of employment, during leisure activities, or as the result of a combination of these environments. A comprehensive noise assessment of the employee’s workplace and medical assessment is required to determine if the industrial deafness may be mainly related to noise exposure at the employee’s work activities within the University.

8.2 Work Injury Management Unit

Acceptance of an industrial deafness workers’ compensation claim will be considered by the Work Injury Management Unit of the Occupational Health and Safety Division if the employee fulfils the following criteria:

An application for compensation for industrial deafness may be made under the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act (2003)

  • while the claimant is a worker under the Act
  • has been employed in an industry in the State for a period of, or for periods totalling, at least 5 years and
  • the employment was at a location, or at locations, where the noise level was a significant contributing factor to the NIHL.

8.3 Workers' compensation claim

If industrial deafness has been diagnosed and the employee fulfils the criteria in section 8.2, they may lodge a workers’ compensation claim. The claim application must be lodged with a ‘workers' compensation’ medical certificate indicating the relationship of employment to the hearing loss. An accident/injury/incident report should also be lodged.

8.4 Rehabilitation

The University’s Work Rehabilitation Policy and Procedures will be followed where staff have a diagnosed noise-related disorder and a supporting medical certificate to state that they are unable to tolerate their work environment despite all practicable attempts to minimise their noise exposure.

9. Responsibilities

  1. The University is responsible for providing the resources for implementation of services required by this guideline and fulfilment of workers' compensation responsibilities.
  2. Heads of Schools and Organisation Units are responsible for recognising situations where this guideline applies and ensuring sufficient resouces are made available for its implementation.
  3. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that individuals under their supervision have been educated regarding this guideline, that they understand the risk to health involved, and that they comply with their responsibilities as outlined in point 5 of this section. Supervisors are responsible for advising their Head of School/Organisational Unit of difficulties in achieving compliance with this guideline. Supervisors who require assistance with implementing this guideline should contact the OHS Division.
  4. The Director, Occupational Health and Safety is responsible for the co-ordination of medical screening, hearing testing, noise monitoring, accident and hazard report follow-up, advice regarding noise control measures, and education programs.
  5. Individuals (students, staff, and visitors) who participate in activities involving exposure to excessive or nuisance noise shall comply with this guideline, so far as is practicable. All individuals have a responsibility to report noise-related hazards to their supervisor using a hazard report form. All individuals have an obligation to protect themselves and others in the workplace.
  6. Contractors and sub-contractors shall comply with this guideline at their own cost whilst working under the direction of the University, or on University grounds.

10. Further Information

Contact the Occupational Health Nurse Advisor or Occupational Hygienist at the OH&S Division or phone 33654883/33656210.

Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael

Forms

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Hearing Test Referral - 2 Year Follow-up - Form

Hearing Test Referral - 2 Year Follow-up - Form

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Description: 

This referral form should be used to refer a worker who has previously had hearing tests performed as part of the UQ hearing conservation programme.

Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael
Hearing Test Referral - Exit Test - Form

Hearing Test Referral - Exit Test - Form

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Description: 

This form should be used to refer a worker who has been enrolled in the UQ Hearing conservation programme but will be leaving employment with the University and requires a final hearing test.

Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael
Hearing Test Referral - Initial Test - Form

Hearing Test Referral - Initial Test - Form

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Description: 

This form should be used to refer new workers who require a hearing test and are not currently enrolled in the UQ Hearing Conservation programme.

Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael
Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael
Custodians
Director, Occupational Health and Safety
Mr Jim Carmichael