Monday, March 25, 2013

Workplace Noise

Workplace Noise

What is acceptable and not?

You are an employer, manger or supervisor - how do you determine whether noise in your workplace is at an acceptable level for your workers and adheres to legal standards set by your provincial and federal health and safety organizations?

Permissible noise exposure depends on the duration per day in hours an individual is exposed and on the decibel level of that noise. Under the OHSA, WSBC, ISO, EPA, NIOSH, CCOHS, OSHA, CSA and other governing bodies across Canada and North America, maximum decibel levels have been set based on, for example, eight hours of exposure. Under OSHA (US), in an 8-hour day the maximum decibel level dB is 90 dB; in a 4-hour day 95dB and in a 2-hour day 100 dB. Under OHSA (ON), an 8-hour day maximum decibel level is 84 dB and a 4-hour day is 90 dB. The shorter the duration the higher the decibel level allowed.

Legislative requirements by province and country differ slightly but are all within a 5-10 dB (decibel) range of each other. Outlined below are the maximums allowable by association (provincial and federal [country]):

Excessive noise exposure depends on a number of other factors over and above daily hours exposure limit:

  • Loudness of the noise dB;
  • Duration (frequency) of exposure (outlined above);
  • Assessment of noise and determination if it is from a single source or multiple sources;
  • Personal exposure measurement.

What are the health side effects of noise? Some range from anxiety and depression to fatigue, poor digestion to more severe things like high blood pressure and heart rate to hearing loss.

Exposure to high intensity levels of noise causes not only permanent hearing loss, but can also cause a temporary decrease in hearing sensitivity, known as temporary threshold shift (TTS). This may be after an exposure to a loud noise one time or over a short period of time. During the recovery period a temporary hearing loss is evident. Repeated exposures, however, may result in permanent destruction. It's common for these individuals to complain of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that's more noticeable in quiet environments, and can be quite loud and annoying.

An employer must ensure that a worker isn't exposed to noise in excess of the legislated maximums. An employer must control noise through engineering or administrative controls to ensure the safety of workers. If noise cannot be controlled by engineering controls or administrative controls, it must be controlled by providing workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) and training. PPE can reduce noise by 8-15 dB.

Procedures for the measurement of occupational noise exposure are outlined in the CSA Standard Z107.56-06. It explains how to carry out measurements, what instruments are needed, and how to interpret the results. There are experts in their field who can determine if the noise levels are acceptable levels.

A hearing conservation program is required by law where exposure limits are in excess of government regulated maximum exposures. Steps to take to ensure compliance and safety of your workers are:

1. Noise measurement

2. Engineering controls and administrative controls

3. Job policies and procedures

4. Education and training

5. Hearing protection: PPE

6. PPE fit test and education program

7. Post noise hazards

8. Hearing tests (annual)

9. Annual program review

An example of a few noise sources and corresponding noise levels that would require a hearing conservation program to be in place are:

  • Punch Press: 100 dB
  • Air Carbon Arc Cutting: 120 dB
  • Arc Welding: 95 dB

Hearing safety is not a game; please make use of the experts!

Lynne Bard, BA (Honours), C.H.R.P., CES
Human Resources, Safety & Risk Management Experts
Taking the Complexity out of Compliance
Beyond Rewards Inc.
Phone: 519-821-7440
Cell: 519-830-7480

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