While the Victorian Exposure Standard is in line with the National Standard of 85dB(A) over an 8 hour period, there are indications that this needs to be reviewed.
The national Noise Standard was in the process of being reviewed but got caught up in the harmonisation of health and safety legislation - the standard now remains the same in the harmonised Work Health Safety Regulations. Noise induced hearing loss continues to be a significant work-related injury and high compensation cost, causing unnecessary suffering to thousands of workers. In fact, the incidence of injury is increasing.
In August 2010, Safe Work Australia released a research report: Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Australia which revealed from July 2002 to June 2007 there were approximately 16,500 workers' compensation claims for industrial deafness involving permanent impairment due to noise. It concluded that despite 'abundant evidence that eliminating the noise source or implementing engineering noise controls is the most appropriate way to reduce the risk of occupational noise-induced hearing loss, providing personal protective equipment appears to be the preferred risk reduction measure.'
According to the statistics (see Safe Work Australia's Occupational Disease Indicators 2012 publication) the incidence rate has increased from 387 to 536 claims per million employees in 2008–09. The most recent statistics (Occupational Disease Indicators 2014) indicate that the rate rose to 627 in 2009–10 before falling to 540 claims per million employees in 2010–11.
Unions, including the VTHC, believe the following issues must be addressed:
- the efficacy of the current exposure level of 85dB. It has been estimated that reducing the exposure level to 80dB would reduce the risk of hearing impairment from 16 per cent to 3 per cent;
- the suggestion that impulsive noise (or pulsed sound) is a greater hazard than continuous noise;
- the combined exposure to noise and other agents, for example: vibration, organic solvents, carbon monoxide and other ototoxic chemicals and drugs, and some metals;
- the potential effects of infra and ultra sound;
- acoustic shock;
- responsibilities for designers, manufacturers and importers; and
- the non-auditory effects of noise (for example, stress).
These issues were identified by NOHSC (an earlier incarnation of what is now Safe Work Australia) in 2001, yet are not adequately addressed by the current standard and new code. The union position is that government must be more pro-active in improving its regulatory material in order to prevent noise-related injury and disease.
Unions believe that the regulations and code should include, at least, reducing the occupational exposure level and introducing action levels (as in the UK), introducing exposure levels for infra and/or ultra sound and putting upstream duties in the standard (ie in legislation) rather than as advisory in the code (is also a safe design issue).
Last amended July 2015