Under health and safety legislation, employers and their businesses or organisations are responsible for managing work risks. That includes the risk of hearing impairment and other health harms from exposure to excessive noise.
Managing the risk of noise is more complex than simply providing a worker with ear muffs. Hearing loss is not the only effect of workplace noise. Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) is closely associated with noise-induced hearing loss and can lead to sleep disturbance, difficulties working, depression, anxiety, and other types of psychological ill health.
Based on international research, we know there is a correlation between work-related noise and heart attacks. Noise stimulates the release of stress hormones, and there is evidence linking workplace noise exposure with increased cardiovascular disease risk.
Workplace noise also has direct safety implications by making it more difficult to hear warning signals and communicate with other workers and it has been identified as a cause of workplace accidents. Even lower-level noise can affect concentration and information processing and it has been shown to affect workplace productivity and job satisfaction.
Elimination of the noise source is the best way to reduce noise exposure. If that’s not possible, isolate and/or insulate the noise source to reduce the noise that reaches people and consider limiting worker exposure time to noise.
WorkSafe has also increased its inspectorate’s capacity and capability to look at noise in the workplace through training and development of a new tool to help them assess noise risks when they go into a workplace.
Approximately 30% of New Zealand workers are exposed to loud noise at work at least a quarter of the time. Approximately 80% are male, mainly production workers in primary industries, construction, manufacturing and some transport and service sectors.
62% of New Zealand employers identified workplace noise as a hazard that needed to be managed in the 12 months before being surveyed.
Auckland University research from 2011 estimated that workplace noise was responsible for around 15% of adult hearing loss in New Zealand and contributed up to 25% of adult hearing loss. This represents as many as 100,000 New Zealanders with hearing loss related to workplace noise.
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