OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 16 Noise

Section 221 Noise management program

If a noise exposure assessment confirms that workers are exposed to noise in excess of the occupational exposure limits listed in Table 1 of Schedule 3, the employer must develop and implement a noise management program (sometimes referred to as a hearing conservation program). Section 8 of the OHS Regulation requires that the program’s procedures be in writing and available to workers. Workers are required to cooperate with the employer in implementing the program.

The program must include the following seven components:

(1) worker education;
(2) measuring or monitoring worker exposure to noise;
(3) posting warning signs in any work area where the noise level exceeds 85 dBA;
(4) use of noise control methods;
(5) selection, use and maintenance of hearing protection devices;
(6) audiometric testing; and
(7) annual program review.

Worker education

The success of a noise management program largely depends on effective worker education. Workers need to understand the reasons for, and requirements of, the program. Workers must also understand their role in the program. Worker education should be ongoing and meet the specific exposure and prevention needs of each worker or group of workers.

At a minimum, the worker education component of the program should include the following elements:

(a) regulatory requirements and responsibilities;
(b) occupational exposure limits – what they are and why they are needed;
(c) the effects of noise on hearing;
(d) the employer’s policy on eliminating noise as a hazard, including the noise controls already in place or planned for the future;
(e) identification of hazardous noise sources at the workplace;
(f) training in the use of protective equipment i.e. purpose of hearing protectors, types of protectors available, advantages and disadvantages of the various types of hearing protectors available, selection, fitting, use and care, troubleshooting. This training should include supervised, hands-on practice in the proper fitting of hearing protectors;
(g) audiometric testing i.e. its role in preventing hearing loss, a description of the test procedure, interpretation and implications of test results; and
(h) individual responsibilities for preventing hearing loss i.e. compliance with the program, noise exposure and hearing loss in non-occupational settings.

Measuring or monitoring worker exposure to noise

What needs to be done to protect workers depends on the level and type of noise they are exposed to at the workplace. Measuring sound levels identifies noise sources and those workers most likely to be exposed to noise exceeding the occupational exposure limits.

Posting warning signs

Warning signs must be posted at the periphery of any work area where the noise level exceeds 85 dBA. The signs should include a statement that hearing protectors must be worn while in the area. A supply of several types of hearing protectors should be readily accessible to those entering the area. Signs should present their warning graphically and in words. The words should be written in English and if workers are unable to read English, the words should also appear in the predominant language of the workplace.

Audiometric testing

Workers exposed to noise levels exceeding the occupational exposure limits listed in Table 1 of Schedule 3 must undergo audiometric testing. The purpose of testing is to establish a baseline measurement of the worker’s hearing and to then monitor the worker’s hearing at regular intervals to detect changes in hearing ability. Audiometry is discussed in more detail in section 223.

Use of noise control methods

When reducing worker exposure to noise, engineering controls are preferred, then administrative controls, and finally appropriate personal hearing protection. Engineering controls try to minimize or eliminate exposure by altering or removing the source; administrative controls try to control exposure by modifying the circumstances of the worker’s exposure; personal hearing protection reduces exposure when the other approaches have not reduced the hazard to an acceptable level. Noise control methods are discussed in more detail in section 217.

Selection, use and maintenance of hearing protectors

Hearing protectors are generally defined as anything worn to reduce the level or volume of sound entering the ear. Examples of hearing protectors are shown in Figure 16.1. Hearing protectors are subject to many problems and should be considered the last resort against hazardous noise situations. Hearing protectors can fail to provide adequate protection in many situations due to discomfort, incorrect use with other safety equipment, dislodgment, deterioration and abuse. Hearing protectors provide their greatest protection against high frequency noise and significantly less protection against low frequency noise. Nevertheless, hearing protectors can protect against noise-induced hearing loss if their use is carefully planned, evaluated and supervised.

Workers should be provided with a choice of two or three types of protectors from the class of hearing protection considered to be most appropriate for each worker’s work area noise level and hearing deficit (if any). The type of protection most appropriate for a particular worker depends on the other equipment that must be worn such as safety headwear, protective eyewear, respirator, etc., the shape and size of the worker’s head and ear canals, and relative comfort. Comfort is very subjective and is not related to the Class of protector i.e. a Class C protector is not necessarily any more or less comfortable than a Class B protector.

Workers do not always know when their protectors are defective or worn out. Some premoulded earplugs shrink and/or harden when exposed continuously to ear wax and perspiration. Flanges may break off and plugs may crack. Earmuff cushions may harden or crack, and headbands may lose their tension. Workers need to know how to recognize when a hearing protector requires repair or replacement. Defective and poorly or improperly fitting protectors need to be identified and repaired, replaced or refitted.

Annual program review

The noise management program must be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it is effective. The extent of the review should be based on the sophistication and complexity of the program, but must at least include review of the training program, an assessment of the need for further noise measurement and the adequacy of control measures.

The key measure of a program’s success is whether it prevents work-related noise-induced hearing loss. The employer should consider information from the physician or audiologist when evaluating the effectiveness of the education and training programs related to noise, and the effectiveness of noise control measures. Overall results can be compared from year to year to identify trends among individuals, within occupations, for various processes, between different departments, or between different work sites. It is easier to identify specific problems when results are grouped in this way.

All components of the program should be reviewed for compliance with the employer’s policies and procedures, for completeness and accuracy, and for compliance with regulatory requirements.