Workers Health & Safety Centre

March 3—World Hearing Day—turning up the volume on noise prevention

One in ten Canadians struggle each day because of varying degrees of hearing loss.
In fact, hearing loss is the fastest growing and one of the most prevalent chronic health problems facing Canadians. It can result from illness, infection, trauma and aging. Though, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common and preventable cause.
World Hearing Day, held annually on March 3 and spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to raise awareness on the prevalence of deafness and hearing loss. This year’s theme, “Hear the Future”, seeks to draw attention to the anticipated increase in the number of people with hearing loss around the world in the coming decades. Equally important, the day is intended to promote prevention.

Non-occupational prevention efforts

According to WHO estimates, 1.1 billion young people worldwide risk hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices. This includes exposure to loud sounds on personal audio devices and in noisy entertainment venues. Though, many adults are similarly exposed to harmful noise using these devices and attending noisy events.  

As part of their “Make Listening Safe” initiative, WHO is working with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and other experts to develop and implement global standards for devices allowing for safe listening. WHO is also pledging to work with others to develop a regulatory framework to promote safe listening in entertainment venues. On this point, such an effort may also serve to protect workers employed in these noisy stadiums, nightclubs and bars. 

Workers suffer too

In fact, noise is arguably one of the most common occupational and environmental hazards faced by workers in most workplaces. Here in Ontario, NIHL is the leading cause of occupational disease according to statistics reported by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
Of course, many studies and the experiences of affected workers tell us WSIB figures fail to represent the true extent of NIHL, 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 leaving some to suffer anxiety and depression. Studies have linked it to other health impacts, including cardiovascular impairment and sleeping problems.

Noise control obligations

In July of 2016, 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). Employers must ensure measures are in place to reduce workers’ exposures based on a “hierarchy of controls”. In short, personal protective equipment (PPE), including ear plugs and ear muffs, can be used only as a temporary measure or as a last resort when eliminating noise sources cannot be achieved or engineering controls are either not available or proven ineffective.

WHSC and OHCOW—pursuing prevention

In support of World Hearing Day, 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 WHSC Executive Director, Dave Killham. “Our training and information resources are developed with this in mind and with the understanding prevention is the only acceptable course of action.”

Details about WHSC noise training and supporting resources are available online:
WHSC Noise training (look under Onsite Courses)
WHSC Fact Sheet—Noise: a resounding problem
New Ontario noise regulation to extend coverage to all workers

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) is another trusted source for helpful resources and support for workplace parties pursuing noise prevention.

Details about OHCOW noise prevention resources are available online:
OHCOW What is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Fact Sheet
OHCOW Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Prevention Solutions
OHCOW Noise Calculator and related resources

For additional information:

Call:    1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative
Call:     1-877-817-0336