Questions & Answers
on 2004 Noise Regulations


1. What are the new Noise Regulations, what is their main purpose and why were they made?

The full title of the new Regulations is the Occupational Health and Safety (Noise) Regulations 2004. They are referred to as "The Noise Regulations".

Noise exposure is one of the most widespread hazards in the workplace environment. It is a major health concern and noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most prevalent industrial diseases.

The purpose of the Noise Regulations is to ensure that the exposure of employees to noise in the workplace is controlled so as to reduce the incidence and severity of hearing loss resulting from excessive exposure to noise. A further objective is to ensure that there is consultation in the workplace in relation to the control of employees' exposure to noise.

The Noise Regulations replace the Occupational Health and Safety (Noise) Regulations 1992.


2. When will I have to comply with the Noise Regulations?

The Noise Regulations came into operation on 30 January 2004.


3. How can I get a copy of the new Regulations?

The Noise Regulations can be purchased from Information Victoria, 356 Collins Street, Melbourne, Telephone 1300 366 356. You can also view or download the Regulations online. Go to the Victorian Parliament web page: www.dms.dpc.vic.gov.au and scroll down to "Victorian Law Today", click on that heading and follow prompts to the alphabetical Occupational Health and Safety (Noise) Regulations 2004. Note that this site uses the formal name for regulations, that is, "statutory rules".


4. What workplaces do the Noise Regulations apply to?

The Regulations apply to all Victorian workplaces. The Regulations only apply to the protection of employees at workplaces.


5. What are my obligations as an employer under the Regulations?

Consultation with health and safety representatives in certain circumstances

An employer is required to consult with the health and safety representative of a designated work group, if practicable, in certain circumstances. This is when an employer proposes to:
• implement a new noise control measure
• conduct a noise assessment
• review or revise a control measure
• prepare a record of actions necessary to implement a control measure
If there is no designated workgroup or health and safety representative, the employer must, if practicable, consult with the employees themselves or with any nominated representatives of the employees. The obligation to consult applies as long as it is practicable. It is expected that there should be few, if any, occasions where it would not be practicable to consult the health and safety representative or your employees.

The exposure standard

An employer must ensure that no employee at the workplace is exposed to noise in circumstances where the exposure standard is exceeded. The exposure standard is defined as:

(a) the 8 hour equivalent continuous sound pressure level of 85 dB(A) measured in A-weighted decibels referenced to 20 micropascals at an employee's ear position; or

(b) the C-weighted peak hold sound pressure level reading of 140 dB(C) measured in decibels referenced to 20 micropascals at an employee's ear position.

Assessment of exposure to noise

Employers are required, if an employee's exposure may exceed the exposure standard, to assess the employee's exposure to noise and determine whether or not the exposure standard is exceeded in relation to the employee. In determining whether an employee's exposure may exceed the exposure standard, the effect of any hearing protectors must not be taken into account. The assessment must determine the level of noise to which the employee is exposed and the duration of that exposure. The assessment must take into account all relevant factors including the systems of work at the workplace, and plant and other sources of noise.

Representative assessments

The assessment duty provides for a representative assessment to be performed for a number of employees who are exposed to identical sources of noise at the workplace and whose exposure to noise is likely to be the same. There will be some circumstances when a representative assessment is not appropriate. The new code of practice will provide guidance on circumstances when it is and is not appropriate to rely on this approach

Noise control

Controlling exposure to noise is the main obligation in the Noise Regulations. All of the different obligations in the Regulations are related to the all important business of preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

The employer must ensure that no employee at the workplace is exposed to noise that exceeds the exposure standard. He or she must discharge this duty by following the hierarchy of control specified in the Noise Regulations. The hierarchy is:
• eliminate the source of the noise
• reduce exposure by substituting quieter plant or processes, or using engineering controls
• administrative controls
• hearing protectors
Each type of control measure must be applied so far as is practicable before the employer can implement the next lower control to reduce noise exposure. Generally, the preferred noise control measures are the ones that aren't dependent on a worker's action or worker supervision for them to be effective.

Your first priority is to see if the source of the noise can be eliminated from the workplace altogether. The obligation to first look at eliminating risk is a typical feature of nearly all OHS regulations. This option needs to be fully investigated before moving to the next level of control.

If eliminating the source of the noise isn't practicable, you have to use a noise control measure that ensures that your employees' exposure does not exceed the exposure standard. The Noise Regulations say what these control measures are and the order in which they must be considered.

Keep in mind that the sequence of control measures in the Regulations recognise that any one of the measures might not ensure that your employees' exposure does not exceed the exposure standard. If this occurs you will have to look at using a combination of control measures set out in the Regulations.

If hearing protectors are required to be worn to ensure employees' exposure to noise does not exceed the exposure standard, the employer must clearly identify by signs, labelling of plant or other means, when and where hearing protectors must be worn.

Written record of proposed actions to control noise exposure

If an employer proposes to either eliminate the source of the noise or control noise exposure by substitution of plant or use of engineering controls but it is not practicable to do so within 6 months after the most recent assessment, the employer must prepare a written record that describes the actions necessary to implement the control measure and when these actions will be carried out.

Acquisition of new plant

An employer who is acquiring plant for use in the workplace must have regard to the sound power level of the plant in order to ensure, so far as is practicable, that employees will not be exposed to noise that exceeds the exposure standard.

Audiometric testing

If, in order to control an employees' exposure to noise, an employer is required to provide the employee with hearing protectors, the employer must provide for periodic audiometric testing of that employee: within three months after the employee commences the work for which the hearing protector is required and then at least every two years. The employer must pay for audiometric testing provided under the Noise Regulations.

An employer who provides for audiometric testing of employees must provide each employee tested with a copy of his/her test results. Also, the current aggregate test results must be provided, on request, to the health and safety representative of the relevant designated working group.

The results of audiometric tests no longer have to be notified to WorkSafe Victoria.

Audiological examination

If the audiometric test of an employee indicates a hearing loss between two consecutive audiograms, equal to or exceeding 15 dB at 3000 Hz, 4000 Hz or 6000 Hz frequencies, then the employer must arrange for the employee to undergo an audiological examination. The criteria for requiring an employer to provide for an audiological examination no longer includes the age-based hearing threshold level, sometimes referred to as Type A hearing loss.

The employer must pay for the audiological examination. If the audiological examination indicates that the employee has suffered a hearing loss likely to have been caused by exposure to noise, the employer must review and, if necessary, revise the control measures in place.

Information, instruction and training

If an employer is required to implement control measures under the Noise Regulations, the employer must provide those employees with such information, instruction and training as necessary to enable them to perform their work safely and without risks to their health. Information, instruction and training must be provided about the health effects associated with exposure to noise, the need for controls to reduce exposure, the proper use of control measures, and the nature and purpose of audiometric testing and audiological examinations. Specifically, employers must provide information, instruction and training on the selection, use, and fit of hearing protectors when they are provided to control noise exposure.


6. Is the noise assessment I prepared under the 1992 Regulations acceptable?

Yes, if you made an assessment of an employee's exposure to noise under the 1992 Regulations that was still applicable (that is, it accurately reflects your employee's exposure to noise) when the new Noise Regulations commenced, that assessment is deemed to be valid.


7. Do people carrying out audiometric testing have to be approved by WorkSafe Victoria?

No. The Noise Regulations do not include an approval process for people carrying out workplace audiometric testing. However, employers should ensure that audiometric testing is undertaken by persons with the appropriate competencies.

The code of practice will provide guidance on the types of people who would have the necessary competencies to do this testing. Intermediate guidance on this subject will shortly be placed on the VWA website.


8. What are my obligations as an employer towards independent contractors who are working on my behalf?

Under the Noise Regulations, the duties of employers in respect to assessment and control of noise exposure and information, instruction and training extend to both independent contractors and employees of the independent contractor. The duties only extend to those persons in relation to those things the employer has control over. You cannot use a written contract to avoid this duty. A good general rule with contractors is that if you can quite reasonably do things to make the contractor's work (and the work of the contractor's employees) safer then you should do those things, that is, what you do in relation to protecting your own employees should also extend to contractors and their employees.

The duties of employers in respect to audiometric testing and audiological examinations do not extend to independent contractors and their employees.


9. I'm a health and safety representative; do the Noise Regulations say anything about reps?

Yes. The Regulations place an obligation on your employer to consult with you when the employer is proposing to do a noise assessment, put in place control measures, review or revise a control measure, or prepare a record of actions necessary to implement a control measure, when those activities could affect the members of your designated work group. The obligation of the employer to consult with you is subject to whether it is practicable to consult. It is expected there should be few, if any, occasions where it would not be practicable to consult with you.


10. At my workplace, we do not have a designated work group or elected health and safety representative. Do the Regulations say anything about consulting with employees?

Yes. If there is no health and safety representative, the Regulations place an obligation on an employer to consult with employees or a representative, if any, nominated by the employees, when the employer is proposing to do a noise assessment, put in place control measures, review or revise a control measure or prepare a record of actions necessary to implement a control measure.


11. As an employee what legal obligations do I have?

Under the Noise Regulations, you must use the measures implemented to control noise exposure in accordance with information, instruction and training provided by your employer; your employer has an obligation to give you that information, instruction and training.

More generally, under the OHS Act, you have to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and the health and safety of anyone else that may be affected by your work at the workplace.


12. As a designer, manufacturer and supplier of plant, what obligations do I have?

The most effective and efficient (cost-effective) point at which to control risks associated with the use of plant is the design stage. The Noise Regulations include specific duties on designers, manufacturers and suppliers in relation to noise from plant. These duties vary depending on whether you are a designer, manufacturer or supplier, namely:
• ensure sound power levels are as low as practicable (designer, manufacturer)
• determine sound power (manufacturer)
• provide a written record on sound power (manufacturer, supplier)
• make reasonable efforts to obtain a written record on sound power (supplier)

13. Is there a new code of practice for noise?

A new code of practice, designed to give practical guidance on how to comply with the Noise Regulations is under development. The draft code will be released for public review and comment before it is finalised. The target date for finalisation is July 2004.

The existing Code of Practice for Noise (1992) provides guidance on the previous Noise Regulations and it is intended that this code will be revoked. However, parts of the 1992 code contains some useful guidance about controlling noise exposure in the workplace. Until the new code of practice is in operation, parts of the 1992 code will continue to be a document that contributes to the current state of knowledge about noise hazards.


14. Where can I get more information on noise?

Elsewhere on the VWA website there is a summary of the Noise Regulations.

As well as the information about the Noise Regulations, there is a range of guidance material currently being developed on how to reduce the incidence and severity of hearing loss resulting from excessive exposure to workplace noise. This will be available from the WorkSafe Victoria web site. WorkSafe Victoria is putting together a section titled "Other Noise Links". That section will have links to current WorkSafe Victoria advice and guidance and include other sources of advice on preventing noise-induced hearing loss. Guidance will progressively be placed on the VWA website so you should regularly check it for new and updated information.

The WorkSafe Victoria library at 628 Bourke Street, Melbourne also has general and industry specific information on exposure to workplace noise.

Other health and safety agencies and organisations, both interstate and overseas also have information available on controlling exposure to workplace noise. Check out the Related sites section of the VWA website for links to a host of Australian and international agencies and organisations.

Section 21(4) of the OHS Act obliges employers to employ or engage suitably qualified persons to provide advice in relation to employees' health and safety. Such advice may be provided by any OHS staff or relevant technical staff you employ or by a relevant consultant or technical professional you may engage (refer to Consultant's Directory on VWA website, Yellow Pages or relevant Industry Associations). Your industry association or union may also be able to provide you with information and assistance on controlling exposure to workplace noise.