Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!


Episode #: 120: Preventing Permanent Hearing Loss



Introduction Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Host: If you and your co-workers have to raise your voices in order to hear one another, your workplace might have a noise problem. And if after a shift you hear ringing in your ears and have to increase the volume on your car radio, these, too, are good indications that you're exposed to excessive noise.

One of the most common occupational health hazards, noise in the bane of workers in heavy industrial and manufacturing environments, in cafeterias, call centres and a host of other industries. While noise may not cut, burn, bruise or strain our bodies as other types of hazards can, it can cause another form of physical injury, including hearing loss which may become permanent if left unchecked.

The degree of injury depends on how loud the noise is, how long a worker is exposed to it, how high or low the sound frequency is and the type of noise. Besides posing a risk of hearing loss, noise - even at low levels - also causes annoyance and interferes with our ability to speak, listen, and communicate warnings of safety hazards to one another. It can affect the cardiovascular system, resulting in the release of adrenaline that is associated with stress and an increase in blood pressure. Excessive noise can be harmful to pregnant women. Noise can also interact with chemical substances, increasing the harmful effects on our health.

A simple check to ask yourself and co-workers is: Do you turn the music up on your drive home from work and turn it back down on the way in to work in the morning?

Reducing the amount of noise at work that reaches the ears - either by controlling it at the source or by using hearing protectors - is key to protecting workers.

Auditory health effects of noise include acoustic trauma, caused by loud, short bursts of noise, like that of a shotgun, tinnitus, the ringing or buzzing in the ear, temporary hearing loss that returns after a worker spends time in quiet, and the most worrisome - permanent hearing loss from continued exposure to unacceptable levels of noise.

Workers and their supervisors should know that:

         Noise-induced hearing loss is cumulative; level of noise and exposure time are both important factors

         Noise-induced hearing impairment is the most common irreversible and preventable occupational hazard worldwide, according to the World Health Organization

         Safety standards suggest hearing protection, and a noise safety program should be instituted if the sound level is near 85 decibels for 8 hours. Note that the exposure limit is 85 dB(A) in most Canadian jurisdictions, but it is 90 dB(A) in Quebec and 87 dB(A) for organizations that follow Canadian federal noise regulations. Workplaces should aim to have levels lower than the limits.

Air jets, widely used for cleaning, drying, power tools and steam valves, can generate sound levels of 105 dB. The sound levels of woodworking saws can hit 106 dB. In foundries, shipyards, breweries, weaving factories and paper mills, average levels range between 92 and 96 dB. At these hazardous levels, impairment for highly susceptible people may take only 6-12 months.

Workers faced with damaging noise - from such items as rotors, engines, pumps and compressors - need find controls to help lower the noise levels such as buying quieter tools or machines, maintaining equipment, isolating the noise source in a room or enclosure, isolating the employees from the source such as a booth, or by to choosing the most appropriate and comfortable hearing protection.

For more information about noise in the workplace, visit www.ccohs.ca. Thanks for listening everyone.