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Excessive noise in the workplace is a major health concern

June 3, 2024  By The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)


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Excessive noise in the workplace is a significant health concern, affecting millions of workers across Canada. It’s estimated that more than 11 million Canadians aged 19 to 79 have worked in noisy environments, defined as the need to speak in a raised voice to communicate with co-workers at arm’s length. Of those workers, 56 per cent were classified as “vulnerable” to noise –they were not required to use hearing protection and only did so sometimes, rarely, or never.

Constant exposure to excessive noise is a hazard that, in the short-term, can be disruptive and affect our ability to hear signals, speech, and machinery, and in the long-term, can lead to noise-induced hearing loss, permanently damaging workers’ hearing and affecting their quality of life. Hearing loss can also occur from a single traumatic event, such as a sudden burst of extremely loud noise near the ear.

In less extreme cases, excessive noise exposure can still cause damage. Workers can experience non-auditory effects such as increased stress, disruptions to cardiovascular function (changes to blood pressure and/or heart rate), sleep problems, and impacts to their mental health. 

Hearing conservation programs can help address noise hazards by emphasizing the early detection and control of excessive noise levels through appropriate measures to protect workers’ hearing.

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Noise exposure limits in Canada
Across Canada, each jurisdiction outlines an occupational exposure limit of 85 dBA of continuous noise over an eight-hour period, except for federal workplaces, which have a limit of 87 dBA. When noise exceeds the jurisdiction’s exposure limit, controls must be implemented. Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and workplaces under the federal jurisdiction require a hearing conservation program when noise exceeds the exposure limit.

While not all jurisdictions have a requirement for a hearing conservation program, the elements of a program, such as training, noise assessments, and audiometric testing, also known as hearing testing, are necessary when workers are exposed to noise above the exposure limit. The CSA Standard Z107.56, Measurement of noise exposure, recommends that the employer conduct a noise assessment if noise levels in the workplace exceed 80 dBA. This recommendation extends to any changes in the workplace such as renovation or repair work, when new equipment is introduced, or a modification is made to a work process that may result in a significant change in a worker’s exposure to noise. 

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Key elements of a program
The first step in any hearing conservation program is to assess workplace noise levels. This step involves conducting noise monitoring to determine the magnitude of exposure in different areas and job roles. Using sound level meters and noise dosimeters help to ensure accurate measurements.

One of the primary objectives of workplace hearing conservation programs is to control noise at the source. Substituting equipment with quieter alternatives or implementing engineering measures, such as sound insulation, can help reduce noise levels and minimize employee exposure.

Policies and procedures that limit workers’ exposure to excessive noise can also be introduced. This may include limiting the duration of tasks in noisy environments, implementing a job rotation schedule to reduce cumulative noise exposure, and designating rest breaks in quieter areas.

When noise levels cannot be adequately reduced, employers must provide suitable hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs. Workers must be trained in the proper use, fit, maintenance, and care of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure their effectiveness in reducing noise.

Regular audiometric testing is a critical component of these programs. It involves baseline and periodic assessments of employees’ hearing abilities to detect any changes over time. By tracking changes in hearing thresholds, employers can monitor the effectiveness of controls, identify early signs of hearing loss, and take appropriate actions.

Provide education and training
Make sure to provide education and training on the measures that are in place to reduce exposure and the elements of the hearing conservation program. ]

Workers must be aware of the risks associated with elevated noise exposure and the long-term effects of noise-induced hearing loss. 

By integrating noise monitoring, effective controls, and audiometric testing into an effective hearing conservation program, employers can protect employees by reducing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss, creating a safer and healthier work environment for everyone.


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.
www.ccohs.ca


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