Excessive or continual noise in occupational health and safety terms is considered to be a hazard, and as such it’s important that church organisations are aware of the noise levels that have the potential to cause hearing loss or inner ear injury.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, noise in work-based settings is defined as ‘unwanted or damaging sound’. In a church-based setting this could come from construction or maintenance work, loud music or bell-ringing.
What injuries can occur from noise?
Excessive noise can cause permanent hearing damage, temporary loss of hearing, and / or tinnitus or ringing in the ear. Continued exposure has the potential to cause death of nerve receptors in the inner ear – an irreversible condition.
What levels of noise are considered high-risk?
The occupational national standard for noise is a maximum of 85dB over a continuous 8-hour period, and 140dB for peak noise level. It’s important to ensure that people are not exposed to noise levels greater than the standard.
As a guide, normal conversation is around 60dB, while lawn mowing is 93dB and a jet engine around 120dB. If people in the building cannot easily hear someone speaking to them from one metre away and they do not have a hearing impairment, then excessive noise may be present. This can be measured by an expert consultant if required – see your State’s WorkSafe site for more information.
If noise levels cannot be controlled then you may need to protect people from the sound (such as by moving them away from the source), and / or provide hearing protection for workers – this must be supplied within three months of an employee commencing his/her job.
It goes without saying that it’s important for churches to consider the needs of their congregants, visitors and neighbours when playing music. If people are complaining about the sound level then you may need to turn down the volume, move the speakers, or consider using fewer speakers.
Musicians may be more vulnerable than most people to hearing loss, and should consider wearing earplugs. There are special musicians’ earplugs on the market that are designed to protect against ear damage while still allowing for sound clarity.
More information on this issue can be found at SafeWork Australia or at your State’s WorkSafe website.
Written by Tess Oliver
Tags: employees, health & safety, volunteers