Noise remains one of the most common hazards in the workplace. Worker’s Compensation Boards across Canada report that noise is still the biggest cause of permanent disability claims. As with other hearing damage, it often occurs gradually over time without workers realizing that it is happening. The loss begins by affecting a person’s ability to hear higher frequency sounds. With continued exposure, hearing deteriorates and eventually the loss spreads into lower frequencies, which makes normal speech more and more difficult to hear and understand.
Employers in Alberta must comply with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation. This legislation defines a worker’s maximum permitted daily exposure to noise without hearing protection. For more information on occupational exposure limits for noise please see the Government of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code Explanation Guide.
When workers are exposed to excess noise, the employer must legally develop and implement a Noise Management Program. Such a program should involve educating workers, measuring and monitoring sound levels, posting signage, controlling noise exposure, providing hearing protection devices and conducting audiometric tests for workers.
Workers should also take personal responsibility for protecting their hearing whenever possible:
- Don’t be afraid to report noise concerns to your supervisor or employer.
- Don’t be the worker who comes up with excuses to deflect the need for hearing protection. Sometimes workers comment that they are “used to the noise” in the workplace. Unfortunately this is a myth. Your hearing does not adjust to noise. The only way to get used to noise is to literally become deaf to it.
- Wear hearing protection. Sometimes workers complain that hearing protection is uncomfortable. It may take a bit of time to get used to, but like a pair of safety glasses, after a while you will probably not even notice that you are wearing it.
- If you already suspect that you have hearing loss, don’t reject using protection because you think the damage is already done. While it is true that hearing protection can’t bring back the hearing you have lost, you can save the hearing you have left.
- Some workers are wary of hearing protection devices because they worry that they will not be able to hear what others are saying in the workplace. In actuality, wearing hearing protection in a noisy environment can make conversations easier to distinguish.