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Health and Safety: Speaking up about noise hazards

May 26, 2021  By By the CCOHS

Always wear the proper protection to avoid hearing damage or loss. Photo: Africa Studio/Adobe Stock Images

The facts are loud and clear: noise – in particular prolonged exposure to it – can pose serious health risks to workers, leading to hearing damage or loss. In addition to auditory effects, exposure to elevated noise levels can also cause non-auditory effects, including stress, related physiological and behavioural effects, and safety concerns.

Plan and conserve
With annual costs for noise-induced hearing loss claims in the tens of millions of dollars, it’s clear that exposure to noise is taking a toll on workers. However, workplaces do have the responsibility and the power to protect their workers. To do this, employers can assess noise hazards in their workplace and implement the most effective and feasible controls to keep workers safe. This can include eliminating the noise, buying quiet equipment and tools, isolating the noise hazard, implementing preventive maintenance programs, reviewing exposure time limits and/or changing the way staff work, providing training, and, as a final measure, protecting workers with personal protective equipment.

Requirements for a noise assessment varies among jurisdictions. If a worker is exposed to noise levels above 80 dBA over an eight-hour period, an employer should assess the workplace for noise hazards. CSA Standard Z107.56-13 (R2018) Measurement of Noise Exposure can be used as a reference if not already prescribed in legislation. A walk-through survey and noise mapping with a calibrated sound level meter can help determine which equipment may produce a hazardous level of noise.

To address noise hazards, a hearing conservation program can be developed which includes employee training, education, maintenance and inspection of equipment, and program evaluation, as well as methods for controlling noise. This can include reviewing engineering controls, like designs or modifications to plants, equipment, ventilation systems, and processes that reduce the source of exposure, and can also include assessing administrative controls, which alter the way the work is done.


Hear the benefits of hearing protectors
Working in noisy environments, like construction sites or worksites with loud machinery, can affect workers’ hearing, and over time, the damage can become more severe and potentially irreversible. Even the noises that we may be used to because of our job duties can cause harm. Consider a lawnmower, for example. With decibel levels around 90-100 dBA, exposure to this noise, especially over a prolonged period, can cause harm to workers close to the source. But for many employees, like those in landscaping, exposure to such noise is part of the job, and at times, it may not be feasible to reduce or eliminate noise levels through engineering methods. When worn correctly, hearing protectors reduce the noise exposure level and the risk of hearing loss. To ensure its effectiveness, elect for protection that is appropriate for the job. To do this, refer to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z94.2-14 (R2019) Hearing Protection Devices – Performance, Selection, Care and Use, or contact the agency responsible for occupational health and safety legislation in your jurisdiction for more information.

Hearing protectors should be capable of providing adequate protection or noise attenuation and should be compatible with other required personal protective equipment or communication devices. They should be comfortable enough to be worn for the entire length of exposure to the noise.


Lastly, hearing protectors should be able to provide adequate communication and audibility needs (e.g., the wearer of the device must have the ability to hear alarms or warning sounds).

Where hearing protectors must be used, it’s best to provide different types to choose from that will be appropriate for the noise levels. These can be earplugs, semi-insert plugs, earmuffs, or a combination of muffs and plugs. If the noise exposure is intermittent, earmuffs are more desirable since it may be inconvenient to remove and reinsert earplugs.

Promote protection
In addition to setting up a hearing conservation program, employers can set a good example. Be proactive and look for ways to eliminate or reduce exposure, post signage in areas with elevated noise, provide training to workers, acknowledge good hearing conservation practices, and wear hearing protection devices when required.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well being of workers in Canada by providing information, training, education, systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and injury and illness prevention.

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