Exposure to excessive noise over a long period of time can damage a person’s hearing. Managing noise in a school involves identifying areas of the school where high levels of noise are present, assessing the noise levels and implementing control measures. This can be achieved by conducting a risk assessment, in consultation with relevant employees and / or health and safety representatives. The exposure standard states that noise "must not exceed an 8-hour noise level equivalent of 85dB (A) or peak at more than 140 dB (C)."
Some common noisy areas in schools can include, but are not limited to:
- technology areas such as woodwork, metal work and design
- maintenance and outdoor work areas due to plant such as lawnmowers and tractors
- music areas
- sporting and physical education areas (e.g. from starting pistols and whistles).
If a school is unsure if an activity or task presents hazardous levels of noise then a noise assessment can be conducted by a qualified professional such as an occupational hygienist. Results from a noise assessment can then feed into the risk assessment.
The preferred method of reducing the source of a noise is eliminating it by no longer doing particular tasks or by purchasing quieter equipment. If a noise cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced, as far as reasonably practicable, by the following methods and in the following order:
- isolating the equipment from people by placing it in a different location
- using quieter plant or processes or using engineering controls such as noise reduction screens or insulation
- using administrative controls such as regular maintenance of equipment, job rotation, working for shorter time frames, training, signs
- providing personal hearing protectors.
Schools should always aim to control the level of noise at the source
If staff in particular areas of the school (for example woodworking and maintenance) requires hearing protection to reduce their noise exposure, the school may need to provide audiometric testing to ensure that school operations are not affecting the hearing of their staff.
Where hearing protectors are required, the school should provide clearly identifiable signs or labels where hearing protectors need to be worn. Hearing protection should suit the individual staff member (with a choice of ear plugs or ear muffs), be hygienic and stored in a clean and dust-free location.
Schools should ensure that suitable training is provided to persons that need to wear hearing protection in how to use it safely as well as proper maintenance of the equipment. Regular checks should be made of hearing protection, and faulty or damaged equipment replaced or repaired.
Below is a table that illustrates the length of time a person without hearing protection can be safely exposed to noise, as per the appropriate standard. Where noise levels exceed these limits, school leaders should ensure that hearing protection is worn as well as implementing further higher order risk controls.
|Noise Level (dB(A))
Hearing protection should not be the only control in place as this is a lower order control, and is should be implemented in addition to higher order risk controls.