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.
Common noisy areas in schools include:
- Technology areas such as woodwork, metal work and design
- Maintenance and outdoor work areas can also have high noise exposure with plant such as lawnmowers and tractors
- Music areas
- Sporting and Physical Education areas (e.g. from starting pistols and whistles).
The school should identify areas where high levels of noise are present. Initially some warning signs of possible hearing loss or disruption may include:
- Staff need to significantly raise their voices or shout because it is difficult to hear someone speaking from one metre away
- Ears feel ‘full’ or ringing after working in a noisy environment
- Ears hurt or people complain that they have suffered hearing damage
- Workplace signage or manufacturer’s information indicates high noise levels
- Having trouble understanding what people say
- Needing to turn up the volume on the radio or television, even though others can hear
- Not hearing background noises.
If any of the above occurs, or there is uncertainty about noise levels, a professional noise assessment should be carried out.
A noise assessment should be conducted by a qualified professional such as an occupational hygienist where there is:
- A hazardous noise level
- Uncertainty about whether or not staff and students are exposed to excessive noise
- A request from a Health and Safety Representative which has been based on reasonable grounds.
The preferred method of reducing the source of a noise is eliminating it by no longer doing particular tasks or 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.
Rather than relying on just one of the above methods
If staff in particular areas of the school (for example woodworking and maintenance) requires hearing protection to reduce their noise exposure, the school may provide audiometric testing.
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.