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Excessive noise in the workplace is a significant occupational health concern, affecting millions of workers across Canada. An estimated 11.0 million Canadians (43%) aged 19 to 79 have worked in noisy environments, defined as the need to speak in a raised voice to communicate with co-workers at arm's length. Of those workers, 6.1 million (56%) were classified as "vulnerable" to noise—they were not required to use hearing protection and only did so sometimes, rarely, or never.
Constant exposure to excessive noise levels in various industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and aviation, can lead to irreversible hearing damage and impact workers’ quality of life. Workplace hearing conservation programs seek to address this issue, emphasizing the early detection and control of excessive noise levels, while ensuring appropriate measures are in place to protect workers’ hearing.
Where programs are required vs. recommended
Across Canada, each jurisdiction defines its own occupational exposure limits for loudness and duration of noise. In all jurisdictions, the daily exposure limit is 85 dB of continuous noise over an eight-hour period, with the exception of federal workplaces, which have a limit of 87 dB. When noise exceeds the jurisdiction's exposure limit in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and workplaces under the federal jurisdiction, a hearing conservation program is required.
While not all jurisdictions have a requirement for a hearing conservation program, the elements of a program, such as audiometric testing, training, and noise assessments, are necessary when workers are exposed to noise above the exposure limit. The CSA Standard Z107.56, Measurement of noise exposure, recommends that the employer conduct a noise assessment if a worker is exposed to noise in excess of 80 dBA (the equivalent of being on a busy downtown street). A noise assessment is also recommended when there is a renovation or repair of the workplace, new equipment is introduced, or a modification is made to a work process that may result in a significant change in a worker's exposure to noise.
The first step in any hearing conservation program is to assess workplace noise levels. This involves conducting noise monitoring to determine the magnitude of exposure in different areas and job roles. Using sound level meters and personal dosimeters helps to ensure accurate measurements.
Regular audiometric testing, also known as hearing testing, is a critical component of these programs. It involves baseline and periodic assessments of employees' hearing abilities to detect any changes over time. By tracking changes in hearing thresholds, employers can identify early signs of hearing loss and take appropriate actions.
One of the primary objectives of workplace hearing conservation programs is to control noise at the source. Substituting equipment with quieter alternatives or implementing engineering controls, such as sound insulation or equipment modification, helps reduce noise levels and minimize employee exposure.
Administrative controls involve implementing policies and procedures to limit workers' exposure to excessive noise. This may include limiting the duration of tasks in noisy environments, implementing a job rotation to reduce cumulative noise exposure, and scheduling rest breaks in quieter areas.
When noise levels cannot be adequately reduced through engineering and administrative controls, employers must provide suitable hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs. Workers must be trained in the proper use, fit, maintenance, and care of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Education and training
Education and training should be provided to workers on the hearing conservation program, including controls in place to reduce exposure. Workers should be aware of the risks associated with elevated noise exposure and the long-term effects of noise-induced hearing loss. Training should also include the safe use and limitations of hearing protection, covering all elements listed in CSA Z94.2, Hearing protection devices – Performance, selection, care, and use. The education and training should be provided at regular intervals, at least once every two years, or when conditions change.
Hearing conservation programs can significantly reduce the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss, preserving workers' auditory health and preventing related health issues, like tinnitus and increased stress levels. Through these programs, employers demonstrating their commitment to their workforce can also help foster a sense of well-being and job satisfaction among employees, leading to increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. By integrating noise monitoring, audiometric testing, engineering and administrative controls, and proper PPE usage, employers can move beyond compliance with relevant regulations and create a safer work environment for everyone.
Individuals in the Canadian agricultural industry now have a safe and anonymous online space designed just for them.
AgTalk provides a platform where people 16 years of age and over who live, work, and play in the industry can connect, share, and receive support from a community of peers who understand their unique experiences.
Developed by the Do More Agriculture Foundation, AgTalk is designed to support individuals in their next steps toward improving their mental well-being. The clinically moderated environment ensures a secure environment for open discussions on mental health, in both English and French.
Visit https://www.domore.ag/agtalk to find out more.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Creating Safe Workplaces for International Workers
International workers are an integral part of the Canadian economy. There are a number of factors that make them uniquely vulnerable, from language barriers to fears around work permits and job security that may prevent them from speaking up about unsafe conditions. Francy Munoz from the C.A.R.E. for International Workers program discusses ways to improve workplace safety for international workers.
Podcast runs: 8:22 Listen to the podcast now
Francy will also be speaking at CCOHS’ Forum on The Changing World of Work, taking place September 26-27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Encore Podcast: Keeping Workers Safe When Working From Heights
There’s no escaping the fact that working at heights is risky. Every year, workers die or are injured as a result of falling from ladders, scaffolds, roofs or other elevations. In this episode, CCOHS shares steps employers and workers can take to minimize the risk, and help prevent falls and the injuries that go along with them.
Podcast runs: 5:12 Listen to the podcast now
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act requiring female washroom facilities on construction sites and amendments to a Quebec regulation on confined spaces.
Canada Labour Code (Part III): 2018, c. 27, sections 486 and 502 came into force 10/07/23 adding Division XII.1 Reimbursement of Work-related Expenses.
Construction Projects (Occupational Health and Safety Act): O. Reg. 61/23 came into force 01/07/23 making amendments to require female washroom facilities be provided on construction sites and that personal protective equipment should fit properly, having regard to all relevant factors, including body types. Adds clause (4) to Section 21 Protective Clothing, Equipment and Devices; repeals and replaces subsection 29 (4); adds subsection 29 (11.1); and, replaces and adds various subsections to Section 29.1.
Firefighters (Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997): O. Reg. 177/23 adds paragraphs 18 and 19 to Section 4 Prescribed diseases and revises related wording in subsection 5(2).
Safety Code for the construction industry (Act respecting occupational health and safety): O.C. 1112-2023 amends section 2.20.13 of the Code regarding setting, maintenance, inspection, or other work on a machine.
Regulation respecting occupational health and safety (Act respecting occupational health and safety): O.C. 43-2023 is now in force which amends various sections of the Regulation regarding confined spaces. O.C. 1112-2023 is also now in force which amends various sections of the Regulation regarding machines including replacing Division XXI.
Saskatchewan Employment Act: Portions of S.S. 2023, c. 40 are now in force which amends numerous sections throughout Part III of the Act pertaining to occupational health and safety.
For more information on recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
The deadline is quickly approaching for the Chad Bradley Scholarship award. If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program at a Canadian college or university, you may be eligible to win a $3,000 scholarship from CCOHS.
The deadline to apply is August 31, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Learn more about the scholarship, essay criteria, and how to apply: www.ccohs.ca/scholarships/cbradley/.
Thinking about attending CCOHS’ Forum on the Changing World of Work on September 26-27 in Halifax? There’s still time to register and plenty of reasons to attend. The packed program features a diverse line-up of experts and thought leaders on current and emerging issues related to workplace health and safety.
Over the two days, you’ll experience more than 10 sessions and have opportunities to discuss and exchange ideas. You’ll gain insights on the potential impacts of climate change on work through a panel discussion on this increasingly relevant topic. You’ll also learn about new health and safety tools and resources at the Innovation Showcase.
Register today and get ready to be inspired to create positive change in your workplace.
For more information and updates, visit www.ccohs.ca/forum.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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