Present in all workplaces to varying degrees, noise is arguably one of the most common occupational and environmental hazards faced by workers.
According to a recently released federal government study, of Canadians aged 16 to 79, 42 per cent have worked or currently work in an environment where they must speak in a raised voice to talk with someone standing an arm’s length away.
“The need to raise your voice to communicate with supervisors or co-workers is a telltale sign noise has reached harmful levels,” explains Dave Killham, executive director, Workers Health & Safety Centre. “It is also further evidence much work remains when it comes to dealing with this well documented hazard.”
Others look to accepted compensation claims to make the case for prevention. Here they make the case both workers and employers are paying a steep price. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reports, for the decade ending in 2015, they accepted nearly 30,000 worker claims of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)—making noise a leading cause of occupational disease
in Ontario. According to the WSIB, the cost for NIHL claims exceeded $50 million per year
. Of course, many studies tell us even these figures are low, owing to underreporting and claim denial.
Regardless, for affected workers, hearing loss has wide impacts, including the impairment of work performance and serious interference with quality of life
. Noise can also be extremely stressful. As such, studies have linked it to other health impacts, including cardiovascular impairment and sleeping problems.
Noise control obligations
So how do we best go about preventing noise exposures? Just last July, a new noise regulation took effect here in Ontario extending existing noise protection requirements
to all Ontario workplaces under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act)
. Under Ontario’s noise regulation employers are required to ensure measures are in place to reduce workers’ exposures based on a “hierarchy of controls”.
This would include engineering and administrative controls such as enclosing noisy machinery, adding sound absorbing barriers or insulation, as well as limiting worker access to noisy areas.
Furthermore, under the regulation personal protective equipment (PPE), including ear plugs and ear muffs, should be used only as a temporary measure or as a last resort
when engineering controls are either not available or proven ineffective.
“Far too often PPE is the first and only protection offered to exposed workers,” says Killham. “Not only is this a violation of specific employer obligations relating to noise
, but it is also a failure to live up to the employer’s general duty under the Act
to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers from hazards.”
Consider first reliance on PPE can provide a false sense of safety. Hearing protection devices don’t always work as advertised
. The U.S. National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), for instance, believes Noise Reduction Ratings provided by manufacturers of ear muffs and ear plugs are significantly overstated in terms of protection.
Even in situations where PPE is absolutely necessary, many question if workers are even getting the minimum training requirements
outlined in Ontario’s Noise Regulation, including proper use, fitting and limitations.
Further still, noise and hearing protection devices can also cause social isolation at work and impede the ability of workers and others to hear auditory warnings of impending harm in noisy work environments.
Focus on prevention
individuals and organizations here in Canada and around the world will recognize International Noise Awareness Day
. Organizers ask that we do something
about noise where we work, live and play.
For our part, the WHSC recommits to our role in terms of raising awareness about the harmful effects of noise and, more importantly, offering training and support for those seeking to meet their legal obligations and take the steps necessary to make workplaces quieter and healthier.
“Once hearing is lost, it cannot be restored,” explains Killham. “Our training and information resources are developed with this in mind and with the understanding prevention is the only acceptable course of action
Want to know more about WHSC noise training and supporting resources?
Want to access important noise identification and prevention resources from OHCOW?
For additional information about WHSC noise prevention training or any other question about training obligations, contact the WHSC today: