Hear, hear: MOL launches occupational noise initiative

The Ontario Ministry of Labour, through Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, wants to help businesses protect their workers from noise.

This comes after a new noise regulation that was passed in July 2016 that requires employers to follow a “hierarchy of controls” to protect workers. Engineering controls and work practices come before personal protective equipment (such as earplugs and ear muffs), the reasoning being that controlling noise everywhere eliminates the reliance on workers to wear protection.

How big of a deal is this?

One in five adults aged 19 to 79 already have mild hearing loss or more in at least one ear, according to experts. Chances are, with time and continued exposure their hearing will worsen.

It’s one reason the Ministry of Labour has launched the initiative, which will run through March 31, 2018. During this time, inspectors will be looking at how—and how well—employers are protecting workers from noise.

4 steps you can take to prepare:

1. Determine if your workers are exposed to high levels of noise. Be sure to pinpoint the sources of noise and who’s going to be affected where.

2. Conduct a risk assessment. Performing a rudimentary assessment can be done by walking around and listening. You can also rent a sound meter if you’re looking for preliminary numbers. Apps for a smartphone can also be used as a screening tool, although they should be used cautiously and not relied upon for complete accuracy. If an app provides a number that hovers around 85 decibels (the current occupational limit over eight hours), call in an occupational hygienist to do a proper survey.

3. Determine the best way to protect employees. This step includes starting with engineering controls. Can you reduce noise at the source or along the path of transmission? Next, look at work practices such as doing any repairs that might make machines less noisy. Finally, consider Personal Protective Equipment if other controls are not possible.

4. Ensure your controls are working. Implement a surveillance program that includes audiometric testing to make sure people are using hearing protection correctly and not suffering hearing loss.

More information on the issue of hearing protection is available at www.wsps.ca/noise.

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