Businesses must look beyond earmuffs for appropriate workplace noise controls, says WorkSafe New Zealand.

WorkSafe recently visited Metco Engineering which, through its health and safety committee, takes a very proactive approach to keeping staff safe at work.

Metco Engineering’s Mark O’Donnell said, “After twenty-five years of senior management I have witnessed many work place incidents, and almost all were preventable.”

Those experiences shaped Mark’s approach to health and safety, and he says that health and safety is no longer a taboo subject and that it is a key driver for any business.

“At Metco, I’ve given our [health and safety] committee the power to make changes in the business. If there is a good reason, we’ll do it because for Metco health and safety is of paramount importance.”

“As a result of management and committee suggestions we recently modified our press machines to reduce noise. We ground shear angles onto the cutting faces of the press tool punches, reducing tonnage required to punch out parts, thus reducing noise.”

“We’ve also put vibration pads beneath most of our industrial machines. These large pads reduce the noise, and they have the added advantage of cutting out vibrations, another health risk to our staff.”

For the machines that were not able to be directly quietened, they built sound-reducing boxes around them, which have dropped the noise levels by up to 60 percent for those machines.

“Staff who took an active role in the noise reduction programme couldn’t believe they were working beside the same machines.”

“We’ve managed to drop the noise by over 30 percent on the manufacturing floor which has made the environment better for our entire business - on the shop floor and in the office,” added Mark.

In a recent noise test by the council, a lawn mower at a neighbouring house registered higher on the monitoring equipment than Metco’s workshop.

WorkSafe’s construction sector lead Vadim Spice said, “Sustained noise in workplaces increases stress and can lead to a significant drop in productivity.

“It is encouraging to see innovative products, such as acoustic mats for construction sites, starting to appear as businesses realise they need to better manage the risks from noise.

“The real gains will come when businesses consider noise at the time of planning. Installing quieter machines, or designing ways to control noise at the very beginning, reduces the need to rely on workers using the less effective administrative controls, such as earmuffs.”

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