Is noise a hazard in your workplace? If your employees’ ears feel plugged after their shift or if it’s tough to have a conversation without shouting, the answer could be yes.
It’s important to ask this question because every year, Canadians suffer hearing loss from exposure to noise in their workplace. In B.C. alone, over 4,700 work days were lost between 1997 and 2011 because of hearing loss claims.
Too much exposure to noise not only causes hearing loss, it can lead to fatigue, increased blood pressure, and affect your worker’s job performance. Thus, it’s important to be aware of your employees’ working conditions to ensure that you’re offering a safe and healthy working environment. Here are some examples of decibel levels of familiar sounds:
Typically, if noise levels exceed 85 to 90 dBAs (it varies by province), they exceed regulatory limits. Exposure to lower decibel levels for extended periods of time can also cause damage. Occupational hygienists can help your company determine if the noise in your workplace is a hazard. This post will give you some advice on how to minimize the risks of these hazards.
Here are three effective ways to limit exposure and minimize the impacts of noise on your employees’ hearing health:
1. Engineering and administrative controls: This involves modifying or replacing equipment, or making changes at the noise source.
- Design a quieter method for a process in your workplace
- Substitute a noisy piece of equipment for a quiet one
- Isolate a noisy machine
- Place workers in an enclosure
- Add barriers and sound-absorbing materials
- Rotate workers from noisy to quieter areas during a shif
2. Personal protection. This can go a long way in ensuring your workers are protected from hearing loss caused by occupational noise. Some forms of ear protection are mandatory when noise reaches a certain level.
- Ear plugs – inserted to block the ear canal. They may be pre-moulded (preformed) or mouldable (foam ear plugs). Ear plugs are sold as disposable products or reusable plugs. Custom molded ear plugs are also available.
- Semi-insert ear plugs which consist of two ear plugs held over the ends of the ear canal by a rigid headband.
- Ear muffs consist of sound-attenuating material and soft ear cushions that fit around the ear and hard outer cups.
Your employees’ ears should be examined beforehand to ensure they can wear a plug or ear muff.
- Audiometric testing and hearing surveillance. An audiometric test determines the softest sound that a worker can hear at each frequency. A baseline test may help ensure that your company isn’t responsible for pre-existing damage to your employees’ hearing. This test will involve a hearing health history to determine previous occupational noise exposure and other exposures, illnesses, or medication use that could potentially cause hearing loss (i.e. noise from a woodworking shop or rock concerts, or certain chemotherapy medications used in cancer treatment). It also includes education for employees on hearing conservation. The hearing surveillance portion involves follow-up audiometric testing and tracking, and a comparison to previous results to establish trends. This helps you evaluate the effectiveness of your hearing conservation/noise management program.
Now that you are aware of the different ways to manage noise exposure, it’s time to put it into action. Each of these options is an effective way to ensure that your employees’ safety is being recognized. Occupational noise exposure limits may differ depending on the province and thus, it’s important for you to do your own research on what applies to your situation.
Here at DriverCheck, we offer comprehensive hearing conservation programs, including audiometric testing, comparative year over year hearing performance reviews, and general workplace hearing performance statistics utilizing sophisticated state-of-the-art software. We also offer customized mouldable ear plugs. If you have any question about noise exposure programs or the regulations you need to be aware of, get in touch with us. We can provide you with the services you need to minimize risks and maximize efficiency.
Workers Compensation Board of BC. (2011). Occupational Disease Data by Type of Disease, by Year: 2007-2011.