Noise affects virtually every workplace, no matter the size or sector. And without proper controls, exposure to noise can lead to many issues.
The most obvious impact is noise-induced hearing loss, but stress, hypertension, poor sleep, poor mental health and physical injury due to communication challenges can all be linked to noise exposure.
One in five adults aged 19 to 79 already have mild hearing loss or more in at least one ear. Chances are, with time and continued exposure, their hearing will worsen. Statistics like these have prompted the Ontario Ministry of Labour to launch an occupational-noise initiative. Until March 31, inspectors are looking at how — and how well — employers are protecting workers from noise.
A noise regulation (381/15) passed in July 2016 says employers must follow a “hierarchy of controls” to protect workers. Under this hierarchy, engineering controls and work practices come before personal protective equipment (PPE), such as earplugs and earmuffs. Engineering solutions are the better option because they control noise everywhere, eliminating the reliance on workers to wear protection.
Create your own noise-prevention plan with these four steps:
1. Determine if your workers are exposed to high levels of noise. Be sure to pinpoint the sources of noise and who’s going to be affected where.
2. Conduct a risk assessment. You can do a rudimentary assessment just by walking around and listening. If you’re looking for preliminary numbers, rent a sound-level meter. There are also apps available that can be used as screening tools. Smartphone apps must be used cautiously, however, and shouldn’t be relied on for complete accuracy. If an app provides a number that hovers around 85 decibels (the current occupational limit for more than eight hours), call in an occupational hygienist to do a proper survey.
3. Determine the best way to protect employees:
— Start with engineering controls. Can you reduce noise at the source or along the path of transmission? Before implementing a control (such as enclosing a machine), check with an expert to ensure you’re not introducing new hazards.
— Look at work practices. Could repairs make machines less noisy? Could you adjust schedules to reduce workers’ exposure time or duration, or increase distance from the source?
— Consider PPE if other controls are not possible. Select PPE carefully, though. Talk to employees about what kind of protection they’d prefer and which is most comfortable. Ensure that workers are trained on care and use, including proper fit, limitations, inspection and maintenance and, most importantly, hygiene. Dirty earplugs can lead to other health issues.
4. Ensure your controls are working. Implement a surveillance program that includes audiometric testing, to make sure people are using hearing protection correctly and not suffering hearing loss.
Based in Mississauga, Ontario, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services provides risk-management solutions for work environments, primarily in the agricultural, industrial/manufacturing and service sectors.