Excessive exposure to noise in the workplace is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in Canada. With noise levels a concern in most industries across the country, employers are always looking for ways to reduce noise pollution in the workplace. While there are many ways in which noise reduction can be completed, the damage that frequent exposure to excessive noise can have must be considered and measured by employers in order to maintain and prioritize employee health and wellness.
How are Noise Levels Measured?
Noise levels are typically measured by decibels, allowing for those monitoring the level of decibels to determine if they are harmful to employees, or if they fall within the range of ideal working environments. While every jurisdiction classifies a certain number of decibels as safe to work within, it has been determined on the federal level that anything over 87 decibels can lead to permanent hearing damage over a long period of time. While workplaces are encouraged to measure the length of time that employees are exposed to excessive noise, one sharp noise that exceeds safe decibel recommendations,
such as an explosion, can cause hearing damage as well. The decibels that are generated by common sounds that are experienced every day can
be quite surprising, causing individuals to reevaluate their working conditions and the noise levels they are exposed to. Normal conversation is considered to measure at 60 decibels, yet the sound of a motorcycle is measured at 95 decibels. Interestingly, in Vancouver, SkyTrain users are being encouraged to wear earplugs while riding in order to protect their hearing, as studies have found that SkyTrain cars can measure at 106 decibels!
Side Effects of Excessive Noise in the Workplace
Prolonged exposure to excessive noise can result in several side effects. The most common side effect is temporary or permanent loss of hearing, but it can impact the body in various ways. Ringing in the ears known as Tinnitus, issues breathing and sleeping, and negative impacts on physical and mental health can cause employees to be unable to perform at full capacity during and outside of work. Through frequent testing, however, hearing loss can be mitigated.
WorkSafeBC conducted a study that assessed 294 workers in the oil and gas industry from 2012 to 2017. It was found that while the majority of workers claimed to use the proper forms of protection against excessive noise, hearing loss increased from 33% to 45%. Interestingly, 66% of those studied were less than 35 years of age. What should be noted in general, is that many factors can increase the risk of hearing loss, such as age, medications, exposure to ototoxic chemicals, diseases and so forth.
Devices and even mobile apps can be used to measure decibels, to determine target areas that require noise dampening solutions. Mitigations including mufflers on equipment, enclosing specific areas, personal hearing protection, and noise absorbing materials, among others can be used to reduce exposure as well.
To create a safe environment where all employees are able to work without fear of damaging their hearing, frequent testing must be completed. By ensuring that all new employees are tested before they begin work, a baseline can be established to which all future tests are measured against. As the employee progresses throughout their career, their hearing ability can be sufficiently monitored. Testing annually can also help to determine key issues that may be occurring within the workplace or, specifically, within a certain department.