Noise, Vibration Controls Available to Most Australian Workers

The first-ever National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance survey has been released by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, with ASCC Chairman Bill Scales saying the results are generally positive. The NHEWS survey "is the first national survey on exposure to occupational disease causing hazards in Australia," Scales said Wednesday, saying the advisory agency needs the data to inform its prevention activities.

"The more effective prevention of occupational diseases is a priority area in the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012. The ASCC has recognized that for a range of reasons, national data on occupational diseases is not adequate to inform prevention activities," Scales said. "I am pleased to report the NHEWS survey shows that most workers in Australia who are exposed to an occupational disease causing hazard are provided with some form of control to reduce risk. This is a very encouraging finding and shows we are making progress to reduce work-related illness, disease, and death. Further to this, findings showed workers surveyed were able to report a variety of controls were being provided by employers to reduce risk on the job.

"Although these are positive findings, it is concerning that some workers who are exposed to hazards are reporting that no controls for risks are provided at all. For example, around one in every five workers reported that their employer did nothing to prevent health problems caused by exposure to direct sunlight or sunburn. Around the same number of employees reported that their employer did nothing to prevent their hearing from being damaged or to prevent problems caused by using a range of vibrating tools. This is not acceptable. It is everybody's right to be safe and healthy at work and all employers need to review their approach to these important issues," he said.

The survey used telephone interviews to query 1,900 workers from the five priority industries identified in the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012 (transport and storage; health and community services; construction; manufacturing; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing). A second sample of 2,600 workers was drawn from both priority and non-priority industries. Of 1,538 respondents who work in direct sunlight, most said they are provided with sunscreen, hats, or protective clothing, and 21 percent said they do outdoor work during non-peak UV hours to reduce sun exposure. Of 1,437 respondents who work amid loud noise, 60 percent are given ear plugs or ear muffs, 22 percent said noisy equipment is placed in an isolated room, and 36 percent said quieter machinery was purchased whenever possible; 17 percent said they or their employer had done nothing to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

While 65 percent of the 1,348 respondents who work with tools, equipment, or in vehicles that vibrate are provided with gloves, a third of respondents said they had been provided with vibration-absorbing seats and 31 percent said they are provided with products with less vibration. Another 22 percent said they or their employer had done nothing to prevent problems caused by working with vibrating equipment or in vehicles that vibrate.

Survey results and a Survey Handbook are available for free from the ASCC website. ASCC is a partnership of governments, employers, and employees, but it is not a regulatory agency. It leads and coordinates national efforts to prevent workplace deaths, injuries, and illnesses.

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