Worker training is one of the most important components of an occupational Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) (or Noise Management Program). Even a well-designed HCP can fall short of the goal of preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) if workers don’t know how excessive noise exposure can harm them, or haven’t learned the behaviours that are necessary to reduce their risk. Duty holders may be able to improve the success of their hearing loss prevention efforts by strengthening worker training programs to address not only the KNOWLEDGE of the people involved but also their ATTITUDES and BEHAVIOURS.
One of the keys to successful training is to incorporate active learning. People learn and retain more information when they are actively involved in the learning process. The good news is that worker training programs don’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Whether you develop and conduct training yourself or hire an expert to do it for you, many of the tools and methods are available and ready to use or customise to your workforce. With some creativity and effort to make the materials engaging and relevant to the work being done at your facility you can boost the effectiveness of your training program.
Duty holders who control noise through various methods may benefit in numerous ways:
1. Consistent and proper use of hearing protectors is likely to increase among workers who become personally committed to protecting themselves from noise at work and elsewhere.
2. Worker satisfaction may improve when they understand how noise exposures are measured and the steps being taken by the duty holder to control noise.
3. Better recognition of situations when hearing protectors or noise controls are inadequate may be possible once workers learn to identify the warning signs of NIHL.
4. Documenting the results of training helps duty holders demonstrate compliance with Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia that require worker training as part of a Noise Management Program (or HCP).
All workers with noise exposures of LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) or LC,peak of 140 dB(C) and higher, must participate in training but what about other workers? People on your site who frequently go in and out of noisy areas may be required to wear hearing protection even though their LAeq,8h noise exposure is below 85 dB(A). They certainly could benefit from training. Likewise managers and other workers whose noise exposures are below LAeq,8h of 85 dB(A) may find the training to be useful, especially as it relates to protecting their own hearing off the job or when helping their workers.
Outline learning objectives you’d like workers in your HCP to understand during annual training. Be sure your objectives include specific skills that workers need to develop, such as proper use of hearing protection, along with facts and information about noise and hearing loss prevention. You may find it easier to develop worker training activities when the learning objectives are clearly defined.
You will find a wealth of training resources online, including free, downloadable content that you can blend into your own training program. If time and resources are limited, consider purchasing ready-to-use training materials or hiring a third party to conduct the training and provide the materials. It is typically best to customize your training as much as possible to include information, images and examples from your own company. It may be easier to engage your workers and keep their attention when they feel like the content is relevant to the work they do and specific to your facility.
Since learning styles differ from one worker to another, you will likely want to present information using various methods including written materials, video, audio and hands-on experiences. On method to make hearing conservation training meaningful for each person is to create materials that prompt the worker to think about the potential negative impact of NIHL on a personal level and how s/he will benefit from hearing well.
Training materials may also need to be translated into languages other than English to facilitate learning for all the workers who attend training. You will also want to ensure the materials you use are at the right educational level for your work force – not too simplistic or too in-depth.
Lastly, you should consider how you can make the training activities more interactive, for instance, using active learning techniques such as demonstrations, discussions, and games.
Learning objectives created when you developed your training can be used to check learning during or after training sessions. Training outcomes can be measured using a simple pen and paper questionnaire or an e-mail survey after the training is completed. For a more immediate gauge of what people are learning, consider using a real-time polling system during the training activities.
Remember to measure any changes in the attitudes and behaviors of your workers in addition to changes in their knowledge about the effects of hazardous noise on hearing and how to protect themselves in noise. One of the most direct ways to measure a change in behavior is individual fit testing of hearing protectors. The Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR) obtained by hearing protector users can be quickly measured before training and afterward using a Field-Attenuation Estimation System (FAES), such as the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ Dual Ear Validation System. Research indicates that workers who initially achieve a low PAR are able to significantly improve their PAR (10-13 dB) immediately following training on proper use of earplugs and earmuffs. (Smith et al, 2014).
Smith, P S, Monaco, B A, Lusk, S L (2014). Attitudes toward use of hearing protection devices and effects of an intervention on fit-testing results.Workplace Health & Safety, 62 (12), 491-499.
Because hearing loss usually occurs gradually, it’s important to continually educate and train workers on the importance of properly wearing hearing protection.
Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia require PCBUs to ensure the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work practices, be affected. When risk management through a hearing protector program is being adopted, holistic implementation is a must.
Providing workers with HPDs and instructing them to wear them, is just not adequate. Training, information and instruction must be provided to workers to help them understand factors such as: how hearing can be affected by exposure to noise, noise exposures and their potential effects, where HPD should be used, how to properly use HPD, the importance of wear time, and storage, maintenance and care of HPD. Duty holders must ensure proper initial fitting and supervision in the correct use of all HPDs is affected. Provision for regular follow up educational sessions to motivate and remind workers of the importance of protecting their hearing is essential.
AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational noise management – Hearing protector program, provides further guidance on training provision when a hearing protector program is adopted. Training should be provided at the beginning of employment, at routine intervals thereafter, and when equipment or circumstances change. Frequency of retraining is dependent on the complexity of the program and the degree of the hazard but should be provided at least annually.
The duty holder may choose whatever method(s) are most feasible and effective for workers in the workplace, but training should be provided to workers by a competent person, and in a way that is easily understandable.
To ensure workers have the necessary knowledge and skills to manage noise hazards and effect controls, education and training programs are a must.
The training program for workers exposed to hazardous noise should include:
Duty holders have an additional specific duty to protect a worker from risks to health and safety in circumstances when hazardous chemicals are utilized in the workplace. The risk of hearing loss and balance is greater when noise and ototoxic chemicals co-exist, regardless of the noise exposure. When workers are exposed to noise and/or ototoxic substances (refer to SWA COP (2018) (Appendix B) and AS/NZS 1236.0 (Appendix C) for information on the most commonly used ototoxic substance in the workplace) a duty holder must ensure information and training is provided, for example, a training program could include the following: ototoxic chemical use in the workplace, the risks to worker health, the control mechanisms in place to reduce the risks, and the review process.
For many people, passively reading or listening to a lecture are some of the least effective ways to learn. A 5-minute hands-on activity with a discussion immediately afterward may be more effective than a 20 minute lecture or a 5 page handout. Listening demonstrations such as simulations of hearing loss and tinnitus or listening to conversation in noise can quickly engage workers at the beginning of a training session.
People will tune out quickly if they don’t think that the topics relate to them or what they do. One idea to keep the session relevant is to ask workers to think of their favorite sound, and how they would feel if they could no longer hear and enjoy that sound. Such engagement makes the training personal. You could also invite workers to consider what effect hearing loss and tinnitus would have on their relationship with family and friends.
You will want to make your training materials specific to your company and feature images from your facility. You should consider inviting workers who are respected by other workers to give a brief testimonial of how tinnitus or hearing loss has impacted them or how they have learnt to work safely and maintain hearing ability while wearing hearing protection.
Don’t expect great results if your training is boring or lackluster. You should find ways to make it fun or at the very least memorable. Delivering the same training program year after year is not likely to keep the attention of your workers. Adding new and different content helps make the training relevant and fresh.
Annual training doesn’t have to be delivered only once per year. Consider conducting hearing conservation training in short sessions throughout the year. Shorter sessions can help prevent information overload and allow you to reinforce topics multiple times - a key technique to help people remember ideas.
Teaching others is one of the most effective ways to learn. If you have experienced workers who already understand the importance of issues related to noise and hearing, perhaps they could create or even teach one or more topics in a training session. Likewise, a young, creative worker may be able to interject some engaging activities or ideas into your program.
Another way to learn is to work on a project with a small team. As part of the training program, groups of workers could be assigned a challenge or a problem to solve that is related to the topics that must be covered in the annual training. As each team presents the results of their project, the other workers learn along with them. This is a good example of one way to keep the content relevant.
Hearing damage from excessive noise exposure is not limited to work hours. People who work in noise often participate in noisy activities outside of work. Although your company is not required to teach workers how to protect their hearing while motorcycling, mowing their own lawns or listening to music, the benefits of doing so can be significant. For starters, workers may have a more personal interest in these activities so you can capture their attention more easily by including them in training. In addition, the behaviors that workers learn in order to protect themselves outside of work may carry over into the work day, strengthening your efforts to assure compliance with hearing protection rules.
Noise, SafeWork Australia
See “Codes and Guides” tab links to: Model Code of Practice: MANAGING NOISE AND PREVENTING HEARING LOSS AT WORK: October 2018
This page also includes links to State and Territory Regulators for specific local requirements
The Australian Standard AS/NZS 1269 series, Occupational noise management (1 – 4), provides technical requirements and guidance on all facets of occupational noise management.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is based on selected current national requirements. Other country or local requirements may be different. Always consult User Instructions and follow local laws and regulations. This website contains an overview of general information and should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Reading this information does not certify proficiency in safety and health. Information is current as of the date of publication, and requirements can change in the future. This information should not be relied upon in isolation, as the content is often accompanied by additional and/or clarifying information. All applicable laws and regulations must be followed.