Recent research from WSPS and Ryerson University calls implementing a hearing loss prevention program for OHS consultants "imperative" after finding excessive levels of noise exposure during workplace visits. The study raises questions for every employer. How are you protecting visitors to your workplace? How are you protecting your employees, including those who visit other workplaces as part of their job?
While the duty to implement a noise control program rests with the consultants’ employer, says Research Lead and WSPS Senior Consultant Craig Fairclough, all workplaces bear a responsibility to protect people who come through their doors. "It's a shared responsibility," says Craig.
What the researchers learned
Health and safety consultants who visit manufacturing facilities to carry out assessments, audits, training, and more may be exposed to a number of workplace hazards, including noise. The WSPS and Ryerson research project aimed to quantify levels of noise exposure.
It followed 10 WSPS consultants over a 15-month period as they performed health hazard assessments at the workplaces of food, metal and paper manufacturing clients. The consultants wore appropriate hearing protection devices while using noise dosimeters to measure their personal exposure during the visit.
Of the 32 noise assessments conducted, 10% (3) exceeded the Ontario occupational exposure limit (OEL) of 85 dBA. At this level, control measures are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to reduce the level of risk. Furthermore, nearly 75% of the assessments reached or exceeded 80 dBA, the level at which a hearing loss prevention program is recommended as per CSA Standard Z107.56-18.9.
The study found that relying on hearing protection devices alone is not Ideal for protecting the consultants, partly because personal protective equipment is the least effective control measure. The study calls for implementing a hearing loss prevention program that would include education and training and noise control measures (engineering and administrative controls), as well as hearing protection devices.
Craig says more research is planned to determine what other hazards OHS consultants may be exposed to.
Implications of the study
The broader implications of the study involve an employers' duty to protect workers, and a workplace's duty to protect visitors. Both the employer and the workplace could be held responsible and penalized if an employee or visitor is injured.
As an employer, you need to
- assess hazards and develop prevention programs to protect your employees.
- understand the risks visitors may encounter in your workplace, and your employees may face in other workplaces. Ask questions before sending your employee on the road.
- ensure visitors follow your health and safety guidelines.
- ensure your employees follow guidelines for the workplaces they visit.
As a workplace, you need to
- carry out a risk assessment to identify hazards that could potentially harm employees and visitors.
- develop workplace rules for visitors, display them in the reception area, and communicate them to visitors. Make sure there are measures in place to keep visitors out of restricted areas.
- tell visitors working in hazardous areas about the hazards, safety practices, and controls and make sure they are supervised during their visits.
- ensure visitors wear appropriate PPE, and make it available to them as appropriate, on entry.
How WSPS can help
- Think you may have excessive levels of noise in your workplace? Talk to the WSPS Duty Consultant about what's involved in assessing noise levels: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).
- Review the research results, published in Noise exposure assessment of occupational health and safety (OHS) consultants: A preliminary study.
- To learn more about assessing hazards, the hazard assessment resource page, where you'll find downloadable forms, eCourses, articles and consulting services.
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.