April 24, 2019 was International Noise Awareness Day. What does that have to do with you? Possibly everything.
Even if noise levels in your workplace fall below 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) measured over an 8-hour work day - the maximum permitted exposure under Ontario’s Noise Regulation
- they may still be putting you and your employees at risk.
What you need to know
The threshold limit value of 85 dBA is the maximum permissible noise exposure for preventing hearing loss, but it’s not a magic number. According to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), 85 dBA may not protect everyone, just “the median of the population.”
WSPS Occupational Hygiene Specialist Warren Clements advises a number of other factors could affect individual employees’ susceptibility to hearing loss. Some hearing loss is not related to noise exposure at all, but related to certain medical conditions. These include age, heredity, recreational noise, medications and illnesses.
How noise affects us
Warren points out that noise from machinery, processes and equipment that is not eliminated or controlled may cause permanent hearing loss, which has been associated with:
- a higher risk of injury, resulting from distraction and inability to hear moving equipment, other workers and warning signals
- a three-fold risk of falling
- a higher risk of elevated blood pressure, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, and physical and psychological stress (when exposed to chronic noise <85 dBA)
- reduced productivity due to distraction and stress
- compromised quality of life for employees and their families
Could your workplace be too noisy?
Warren encourages workplaces to take this informal test. Ask yourself and your colleagues these four questions:
- Do I need to raise my voice while I’m in the workplace?
- Do I have ringing in my ears associated with work?
- On my commute 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?
“Yes” answers to any of the first three questions could mean your workplace needs to conduct a formal noise assessment. Individuals answering “yes” to the ringing in your ear question may also want to seek medical attention.
If you’re still not sure about noise in your workplace, here’s a reality check: 42% 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.
This has implications:
- speaking loudly is annoying and unpleasant
- speaking very loudly means you’re at risk of some hearing loss
- shouting means you’re at medium risk of hearing loss
- shouting at your maximum suggests you’re at high risk of hearing loss
How WSPS can help
1 2018 TLVs and BEIs, Based on the Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents & Biological Exposure Indices, ACGHI, p. 132; www.acgih.org/forms/store/ProductFormPublic/2018-tlvs-and-beis
2 Hearing loss, Mayo Clinic; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20373072
3 “A Guide to the Noise Regulation (O. Reg. 381/15) under the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” Ontario Ministry of Labour; https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/noise/gl_noise_1.php
4 “Hearing Loss Linked to Three-Fold Risk of Falling,” February 12, 2012; www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_three_fold_risk_of_falling
5 2018 TLVs and BEIs, Based on the Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents & Biological Exposure Indices, ACGHI, p. 134; www.acgih.org/forms/store/ProductFormPublic/2018-tlvs-and-beis
6 Hearing loss of Canadians, 2012 and 2013 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14156-eng.htm, a report on the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS).
7 Malchaire J (2000), “Strategy for prevention and control of the risks due to noise,” Occupational and Environmental Medicine.57:361-369