#AvoidNoise - how to prevent hearing loss in the workplace

Apr 10, 2017

Results from a Statistics Canada health study offer disturbing findings regarding adult hearing loss.* Could you or your co-workers be among the 1 in 5 adults aged 19 to 79 who have mild hearing loss or more in at least one ear? Here's another: most people with measured hearing loss were unaware they had any hearing problems. Chances are, with time and continued exposure the problem will get worse.

Protect the hearing of everyone in your workplace, including yourself, by leveraging International Noise Awareness Day, April 26, 2017. WSPS occupational hygiene specialist Warren Clements offers eight suggestions below. But first, here are a few facts about noise exposure and hearing.

Forty-two percent of Canadians aged 16 to 79 have worked or currently work in an environment where communicating to someone an arm's length away requires speaking in a raised voice. "That's a noisy work environment," says Warren. Among these individuals, 22% said they always use hearing protection while 39% said they never do. The remaining percentage said they sometimes, often, or rarely, use hearing protection.

Noise exposure cuts across all industries. Furthermore, says Warren, all noise sources count, whether you're at work, home or play. If you're working with tools around the house, cutting wood with a chainsaw, or hunting with firearms, they too could contribute to your overall noise exposure.

Because hearing loss is a gradual process, continues Warren, many people may not realize their hearing is at risk until it's too late. The resulting hearing loss can have severe emotional and social consequences, including social isolation, depression, limited mobility, and reduced income and employment opportunities. It can even put people at greater risk of injury if they can't hear back-up alarms and other warning sounds.

How to leverage International Noise Awareness Day

Here are eight possibilities for the big day.

  1. Set up a noise control display
  2. Schedule hearing loss prevention training and education, including hazards of noise exposure, audiometric testing, and proper use of hearing protection on and off the job
  3. Invite senior management on a noise-related inspection and discuss noise control options after
  4. Make a public commitment to maintaining your hearing, at work and at home. Invite others to join you
  5. Conduct an informal employee survey (see "How to know if your workplace may need a noise control program")
    If your workplace has a hearing loss prevention program in place, also promote some aspect of the program. For instance:
  6. Mark achievements to date
  7. Update your noise exposure assessment. If you have not had a formal exposure assessment, start with an informal JHSC-partnered employee survey
  8. Announce program updates and new initiatives

How to know if your workplace may need a noise control program

Ask yourself and a sampling of employees the following questions.

  • Do I need to raise my voice while I'm in the workplace?
  • Do I have ringing in my ears?
  • On my way home from work, do I need to increase the volume of my radio or digital music player higher than what it was on my way to work?
  • When I'm in a noisy environment with competing noises (e.g., a restaurant or a social gathering). is it difficult to hear other people?

If you and the people you survey answer yes to these questions, look into conducting a more formal assessment.

How we can help

  1. Speak with a WSPS consultant about what's involved in evaluating worker noise exposure in your workplace. Call Customer Care, 905-614-1400; 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).
  2. Attend these sessions connected to WSPS' Partners in Prevention Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, May 2-3 in Mississauga:
    • Ontario Noise Regulations (May 2; included in the conference registration fee)
    • Conducting Noise Tests (a half-day professional development course taking place at the conference location on May 1; $319 + HST)

* Source: Hearing loss of Canadians, 2012 and 2013, a report on the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). The survey collects information through a household interview and direct physical measures at a mobile clinic.