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Noise also a danger for children in tunnels

Friday, June 02, 2006

Noise also a danger for children in tunnels

A health science lecturer and specialist in the effects of noise on young children says taking pre-schoolers into road tunnels could severely damage their hearing, in addition to the physical dangers posed by traffic and exhaust fumes.

Stuart McLaren says apart from the obvious physical danger of taking children through a tunnel without a designated public footpath, the teachers from the Leeds St Early Years Childcare Learning Centre who took toddlers into The Terrace tunnel in Wellington this week were risking exposing the children’s ears to excessive noise.

Mr McLaren has studied noise exposure of young children on walking excursions in Wellington and Auckland as part of a study on noise in early childhood centres, and says tunnels, constructions sites and even busy roads could pose a danger to hearing.

“Organised walks are a very popular activity, which many childcare centres do with their children and while there are tremendous educational benefits and enjoyment for children, teachers, supervisors and parents need to know there are also potential dangers.

“We have monitored young children as they walk and have been surprised by the high level of noise exposure children can receive on the busiest inner city streets.

“This is in the range of workplace limits – as high as 86 dB averaged over the excursion. In workplaces the law requires hearing protection for workers exposed to an average higher than 85 dB over an eight-hour day.”

He says even where a designated pathway exists he would strongly advise against taking children into any noisy confined space such as Wellington’s Mt Victoria tunnel.

Construction site noise too can be very loud, distressing and potentially damaging to children’s ears.

“That should be taken into account by local authorities, when they receive applications to build or demolish buldings close to schools, pre-schools and childcare centres.

“If they allow such work to go ahead, councils should place conditions on the works to minimise the impact on young children attending the centre.”

Mr McLaren says children with special needs, such as autism and some with giftedness, are especially vulnerable to loud or unexpected noise and could become very distressed.

“Teachers and parents taking children for walks should plan the excursion very carefully and choose a route that minimises exposure to noise as they should with any other hazards.”

ENDS

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