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Health and Safety
Taking care with materials, equipment and work procedures and dealing with hazards.
Work-related hearing loss affects thousands of builders in New Zealand. Good ear protection on construction sites is crucial.
Noise-induced hearing loss – permanent deafness – happens when your ears are exposed to loud sounds for a long period of time. It is one of the most common health and safety problems in the construction industry. Of construction industry claims to ACC, claims for ear damage (mostly noise-related hearing loss) have the highest average cost. Around 71,000 New Zealanders have deafness that comes from being exposed to noise, and 95% of them are male.
This type of hearing loss makes it hard to understand speech when you are chatting with a group of people. You may also get tinnitus, which is ringing in your ears. It can take years to develop, but by the time you notice it is a problem, it is too late to do anything. You cannot cure the problem, you can only stop it getting worse.
The best approach is to use protection before it becomes a problem.
Preventing noise-induced hearing loss
- Wear proper hearing protection (ear muffs or plugs) in noisy environments or when doing noisy jobs. Wear earmuffs directly on your head – not over a beanie or other clothing.
- Choose protection that fits and feels comfortable for long periods of wear.
- Choose protection that gives the right level of protection for the level of noise you are exposed to (see below).
- When buying tools or equipment, ask the supplier or retailer about noise levels, and look for quieter models.
- Keep tools and equipment maintained – some equipment is noisier when not kept in good order.
- Employees exposed to loud noise levels over long periods should undergo annual hearing tests to ensure their protection is sufficient.
Hearing protection classes
Earmuffs and earplugs are tested to the standard AS/NZS 1270:2002 Acoustics – Hearing protectors. Once tested, hearing protectors get a rating from Class 1 to 5, where Class 5 gives the highest protection from noise exposure. (The actual measure is maximum 8-hour time-weighted average noise exposure.)
- Class 1 – less than 90 decibels (dB)
- Class 2 – 90 to less than 100 dB
- Class 3 – 95 to less than 100 dB
- Class 4 – 100 to less than 105 dB
- Class 5 – 105 to less than 110 dB.
Both earmuffs and earplugs are available in all classes up to Class 5. Talk to your safety equipment supplier about what is most appropriate for your type of work.
For general information about noise in construction, see Noise: basic concepts.
Updated: 30 March 2016