Logistics & Materials Handling Blog

Noise induced hearing loss and forklift operations

by Paul Hinz
Filed under: Safety

Due to their large size shipping containers require heavy lifting machinery to move them around. Unfortunately with the constant transport demands these vehicles including forklifts and reach stackers are often operated on a continual basis. Due to the size of the vehicles and the power that is required to not only operate the vehicle but also move the containers, vehicle operators can be exposed to high volumes of noise on a regular basis.

Forklift noise blog

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a growing problem in Australia. This blog post looks to define NIHL, look at some of the effects it can have on exposed workers, whilst also recommending some solutions to mitigate the effects of NIHL. An example case study also looks at how Hyster big truck ergonomic design provides reduced noise levels for operators and the positive effect on workers at Port of Melbourne Containers.

According to Concha-Barrientos et al (2004, p. 1) in their World Health Organisation (WHO) research paper: “High levels of occupational noise remain a problem in all regions of the world…Occupations at highest risk of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) include those in manufacturing, transportation, mining, construction, agriculture and the military.”

All occupations listed as ‘highest risk’ by WHO, are occupations that often use forklifts or materials handling equipment regularly as part of normal job performance.

As well as the main health outcome of hearing loss, excessive exposure to high levels of occupational noise can result in:

  • Social isolation
  • Impaired communication with co-workers and family
  • Decreased ability to monitor the work environment (warning signals, equipment sounds)
  • Increased injuries from impaired communication and isolation
  • Anxiety, irritability, decreased self-esteem
  • Lost productivity
  • Expenses for workers compensation and hearing aids

To help combat the effects of NIHL in Australia the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) 2000, has implemented a national standard for occupational noise. The national standard guidelines are as follows:


  • 3.1 The national standard for exposure to noise in the occupational environment is an eight-hour equivalent continuous A-weighted sound pressure level, LAeq,8h, of 85dB(A). For peak noise, the national standard is a C-weighted peak sound pressure level, LC,peak, of 140dB©.
  • 3.2 The exposure to noise is taken to be that measured at the employee’s ear position without taking into account any protection, which may be afforded by personal hearing protectors.

Under the standard employees must not be exposed to noise levels of 85dBA or above for more than 8 continuous hours. The noise level measurement is taken from the employee’s ear position and is not calculated based on any personal hearing protection being worn.

Safe Work Australia (2011, p. 10) provides a list of common noises and their sound levels for reference:

Common noises table blog

Safe Work Australia (2011, p. 14-21) list a number of methods to reduce noise occupational noise levels including:

  • Eliminating the noise source completely – for example by ceasing to use noisy equipment
  • Substitute the hazard with a quieter plant or process
  • Modify plant and processes to reduce noise using engineering controls
  • Isolate the noise source from people using distance, barriers, enclosure and sound absorbing surfaces
  • Use personal hearing protection – earplugs or earmuffs

As part of substituting and modifying plant and processes Safe Work Australia recommend implementing an administrative control based on a purchasing or hiring policy that requires the choice of the quietest plant or equipment for the job.

At Adaptalift all of our materials handling vehicles are ergonomically designed to ensure the best working conditions for drivers. A number of our most popular vehicles emit noise levels below the national occupational noise standard of 85dBA for an 8 hour shift, thus providing optimal working conditions for workers engaged in both short and long shifts.

Hyster model noise emissions

This is of major benefits to both companies and their workforce.

  • Companies are able to benefit from low noise emissions as they do not have to place time restrictions on how long employees can operate Hyster vehicles. Thus providing greater productivity around the clock.
  • Workers are able to benefit from low noise emissions as it reduces their likelihood of being affected by NIHL. With the supply of simple personal protection wear if requested workers are able to work longer in Hyster vehicles.

Management and operators at Port Melbourne Containers in Melbourne, Australia have experienced the benefits first hand of Hyster’s innovative Vista Cab design which provides low noise, high visibility and air conditioning. Noise levels in the cabs of their Hyster H22.00XM-12EC are 73dBA at driver’s ear level which is well below the national standard.

Port of Melbourne Containers operators can spend over eight hours in the cab per shift and the low noise level inside ensures they are comfortable, alert and productive throughout the working day.

Management also commented that with the introduction of Hyster trucks: “Not only had the productivity of the business improved, but employee retention was improved as well”

To further discuss Hyster’s low noise emission vehicles or for more information on a complete turnkey materials handling solution for your business please contact your nearest Hyster Branch.

Reference List:

  1. Concha-Barrientos M, Campbell-Lendrum D, Steenland K. Occupational noise: assessing the burden of disease from work-related hearing impairment at national and local levels. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2004. (WHO Environmental Burden of Disease Series, No. 9).
  2. National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, 2000, ‘National Standard for Occupational Noise [NOHSC: 1007(2000)], Australian Government, retrieved 5th May 2015
  3. Safe Work Australia, 2011, ‘Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work – Code of Practice’, Safe Work Australia, retrieved 5th May 2015