April 27 is International Noise Awareness Day! Established in 1996 by the Center for Hearing and Communication, INAD was created to raise awareness and educate the public about the harmful effects of noise on hearing, health and quality of life.
Sound is a natural part of our surroundings but the difference between sound and noise is in the eye of the beholder, or rather, in the ears of the listener. For instance, heavy metal music can be a symphonic medley to one person and a bothersome cacophony to another person. While we may have different tastes in music or opinions of what sounds are enjoyable or unpleasant, noise is defined as unwanted sound and can be hazardous to a person’s health when exposed to levels that are too loud for too long and often enough.
Noise can have many negative impacts on human health including loss of sleep, increased stress levels, and can pose a safety concern when it interferes with our ability to communicate. Exposure to loud noise breaks down the delicate hair cells in the inner ear called cilia, and when the cilia become damaged it can cause permanent hearing loss. The frequency, intensity and duration of exposure are also contributing factors. In fact, noise is one of the most common occupational health hazards and 10% of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)’s annual health care budget is spent on the Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) program. Fortunately, NIHL is avoidable and preventative actions can be taken if there is excessive noise exposure in the workplace.
The Ontario Noise Regulation 381/15 sets the occupational exposure limit for noise as no more than the equivalent sound exposure level of 85dBA in an eight-hour workday. To put that in perspective, the sound of a normal conversation ranges between 50-70dBA, whereas typical city traffic ranges between 70-80dBA, and the use of power tools ranges between 90-120dBA. Over time, prolonged exposure to noise over 85dBA can cause irreversible damage to your hearing. Employers have the duty to take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from exposure to hazardous sound levels, including using engineering controls, establishing safe work practices, and providing adequate hearing protection devices.
How Can You Tell if a Workplace Is Too Loud?
To recognize if there is a noise problem, you can ask yourself a few questions such as “do people need to raise their voices to speak with someone an arms-length away?” or “do people experience ringing in the ears at the end of a shift?”. Following the R.A.C.E model, it is important to first recognize the hazard, assess the risk, apply controls, and finally evaluate the solutions to control the noise. If you think you may be exposed to hazardous noise at work, talk with your supervisor, Joint Health and Safety Committee or Health and Safety Representative, or consult your Health and Safety Association or an Occupational Hygienist for help.
For more information, visit http://toneitdown.ca/ and https://noiseawareness.org/.
Noise Exposure | PSHSA
A guide to the Noise Regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act | PSHSA
Noise Assessment Tool | IHSA
Noise Control Tool | IHSA
About the Author
Jackie Sam, BSc, DC, MPH, (She/Her), is a Health and Safety Consultant at PSHSA where she has been involved in product development, piloting innovative health and safety solutions, and providing specialized consulting services to Ontario’s public services sectors.