It is quite incredible that after all these years that we still have issues with noise and noise exposure resulting in people losing their hearing to a greater or lesser degree. This is one of the most rigorously researched and investigated areas of Health and Safety – and also one of the easier ones to actually say “Yes, we have a problem’ or “no we don’t”. Yet still we get it wrong.

Recently at a client’s facility, they were being audited by external 3rd party assessors for AS 4801 certification. On entry into a workshop they noticed personnel doing work involving the use of compressed air to test items for use on high pressure systems. The auditor was concerned that the level of noise may be a potential problem and asked questions of local management. The local manager advised that a noise survey had been carried out in the facility. He then presented the auditor with a copy of the report which stated that the noise levels were indeed of concern. However on questioning, the local manager advised that no activity had taken place regarding recommendations contained in the report. As a result of this finding a major non-conformance was issued.

Now leaving aside the issue of the report and the failure to take some action on it, I was actually on site at the same time carrying out some other work in relation to a totally different matter. However, I did have my sound level meter (SLM) – one of the better ones from Scandinavia – with me and the local manager asked if I would review the report and its conclusions. On reading the report, the first item I noticed was that there were no calculations in the report for the EAT (pa2h) or the L Aeq8hr at all. It was simply based on the direct reading from the SLM of the blast of air being put though the hose backed up by an erroneous statement that “based on the reading obtained, it was likely (my emphasis) that noise exposure was around 88 dB(A) which is in excess of the action level”.

As a result of this I became suspicious and carried out my own monitoring, which incidentally was the same make and model of SLM that had been used by the previous report writers. After conducting the measurements and ensuring that the ‘peak’ results were satisfactorily below the action levels. I went and did the calculations based on the actual noise levels, duration of the task and the maximum frequency of the task and established the EAT and L Aeq8hr. As a result of this the actual result was calculated to be 69.7 dB(A) exposure to the personnel in the facility. This is well below the established action level and no further action is required.

However, if the organisation HAD acted on the initial report it had recommendations that the originators come back to advise on major noise mitigation measures including ‘Isolation Booths’, construction of partition walls and even the purchase of completely new machinery at many tens of thousands of dollars. All of which was clearly unnecessary and would have been extremely costly and more to the point the organisation would not have been any the wiser that they had spent significant amounts of money carrying out all this ‘remedial work’ without any need.

So in this case we had a very clear case of the noise being one that annoys and not one that destroys! In fact, it actually didn’t even annoy as the personnel in the workshop told me directly that they didn’t think there was a problem normally, and only became slightly concerned during a brief period when an exceptional amount of work was coming through.

So how then can organisations protect against such potentially expensive and unnecessary activity as a result of the actions of a specialist consultant. It is not difficult and simply requires the same level of basic diligence as should be used in selecting any other type of contractor.

  • Check their qualifications to do the work (in WA all good noise assessors will have Dept of Mines & Petroleum (DMP) Certification and a registration No);
  • Get references from other clients/customers if possible;
  • Request to see a sample of what is to be provided – almost all good assessors will have ‘standard templates’ (similar to the DMP versions in WA) that can be seen to show what they can provide without revealing any specific detail or other surveys with the specific client details redacted;
  • Finally – if they provide a report that does not have clear evidence of calculation of the EAT, the LAeq8hr or other factors, demand an explanation. If not satisfied have an independent person review it. It may cost a little initially but it could save potentially thousands of dollars or more.

So the bottom line of this is that in today’s market although all businesses are looking for ways to minimise costs, personnel’s health and safety is a cost that cannot be cut or compromised, however that does not mean that it should not be carefully and correctly managed and that all due diligence should be made in this area as with all areas of business, in making the right decisions for the right reasons. In these circumstances, do your homework, follow good business practices and you will get the best outcome for all, including the business.