In her role as Specialized Consultant, Occupational Hygiene for WSPS, Toni Volpato conducts noise assessments in a variety of loud workplaces. Her go-to hearing protection used to be flanged-type earplugs.
But after getting “fit tested” for hearing protection, she learned that type of earplug was not protecting her as well as she assumed it would. “Just as we all have different sized feet and hands, we have different sized ear canals,” explains Toni. “So what fits well for one person may not fit properly for the next, and therefore not offer adequate hearing protection.” Toni switched to a different type of earplug that offered better fit and protection against noise-induced hearing loss.
Providing hearing protector ‘fit testing’ to employees is a best practice that will make your hearing loss prevention program more robust, says Toni. “And with WSIB claims on the rise, that’s critical.” In 2022, there were 7,381 claims for noise-induced hearing loss (compared to 6,443 in 2021), representing 18%of all claims, and 26%of claim costs.
What other best practices should your program include to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in your workplace? Here are Toni’s top 8.
8 tips to reduce the risk of noise in the workplace
- Determine if you have a noise problem. Some indicators include:
- finding it hard to communicate with others without raising your voice
- having equipment that produces sound levels above 80 dBA
- complaints about the noise, or the ineffectiveness of hearing protectors
- WSIB claims for noise-induced hearing loss.
- Measure the noise levels in your workplace. Rent a calibrated sound level meter or hire an expert to assess your noise levels. “Use the sound level meter to take spot measurements of noise levels to help you determine which tasks/equipment are the loudest.” While apps are available to measure sound, their accuracy can be off by 10 decibels. Use them only as a first step to alert you to a potential problem.
- Measure worker’s exposure using personal dosimeters. “Worn throughout a work shift, the noise dosimeters give you a truer sense of what a worker is exposed to.” If exposures are above 80 dBA, it’s time to implement control measures. “Although the legal limit in Ontario is 85 dBA over 8 hours, some people will not be protected at that level, so best practice is to reduce exposures to 80 dBA.”
- Carry out audiometric testing on new employees. This lets you determine the baseline level of a worker’s hearing. Repeat the testing every one or two years to determine if hearing loss has occurred.
- Implement control measures. Engineering controls are the most effective way to lower sound levels. Here are some examples:
- purchase equipment that is quieter when possible
- maintain equipment that may be the source of the noise
- enclose the noise source or the worker
- modify or retrofit noisy equipment – for example, install mufflers on air exhausts or noise
- dampeners on air guns
- use screens and shields to block noise.
- Use hearing protectors (as a last resort). Compare the results of your noise assessment to the reduction rating of the various types of hearing protective equipment you are considering purchasing for workers to use, says Toni. “A calculation needs to be done to ensure the hearing protectors being offered will bring noise levels below legislative and/or best practice levels.” Remember that a hearing protector may not fit everyone the same and may provide less protection than what is expected. “That’s where fit testing comes in. Most providers of hearing protectors offer this service to ensure workers are being adequately protected.”
- Provide training to everyone in the workplace. Explain the purpose and elements of your hearing loss prevention program, and how they work together to protect workers. If your workers wear hearing protectors, train them on the limitations of the device, how to ensure proper fit, and how to inspect, maintain, clean and disinfect them.
- Ensure your controls are working. Conduct period noise assessments to ensure your engineering controls are working, especially if conditions change that affect the noise levels in your workplace.
How WSPS can help
Connect with an occupational hygiene consultant to help you carry out noise assessments or build your hearing loss prevention program.
- Preventing Hearing Loss from Workplace Noise (1 hour, eCourse)