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Reducing damaging noise in the workplace

Repeated exposure to loud noise can be a hazard
Monday, October 22, 2018
By WSIB Ontario

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, a time to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and steps you can take to prevent it. According to WSIB thousands of Ontarians report having work-related hearing loss each year and over 30,000 people needed support from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for work-related NIHL between 2007 and 2017.

The top two sectors for allowed NIHL claims over the last 10 years were manufacturing (25 per cent) and construction (16 per cent). Men accounted for most (93 per cent) of all industry claims.

“The good news is that NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that’s completely preventable,” said Elizabeth Witmer, WSIB Chair. “We want to get workplace-related noise-induced hearing loss on people’s radar early because if they understand the dangers of noise, they can protect their hearing for life.”

“We see people every day who are suffering from hearing loss as the result of decades spent working in places that are just too loud,” said Tom Teahen, WSIB President, and CEO. “The problem is, it’s easy to get used to loud, harmful noises in the workplace since they’re rarely painful or irritating. But long-term exposure to these noises can cause irreversible hearing loss.”

Steps you can take to prevent NIHL for facility managers to consider:
Recognize the risk
Know which noises can cause damage. Prolonged exposure to noise over 85 decibels (dBA) can cause damage to your hearing over time. For context, the noise levels in a busy restaurant range from about 70-90dBA, and noise from power tools (i.e. an electric drill) can range from approximately 90-120dBA.

Assess the cause
Once the problem with excessive noise has been identified, the next step is to find its source.  Where is it coming from? When does it occur? Why is it happening?

Control the noise
Once the hazard has been recognized, the next step is to create a plan to control it. Different sources of noise will require different strategies. Eliminate the source of the noise by doing things like tightening machine parts to reduce rattling or installing the sound-absorbing material. Substitute noisy equipment with quieter options and use administrative controls that limit the time a person spends on a noisy task.

Evaluate the solution.
Once work has been done to reduce noise levels in your workplace, those efforts should be checked. If noise levels haven’t gone down, wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs, when you’re involved in a noisy activity and keep searching for new strategies to control the source.

If you think you might be exposed to hazardous noise at work, talk to your supervisor, health and safety rep or a joint health and safety committee member.

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