Noise Hazards

Noise is one of the most common occupational health hazards. To prevent adverse outcomes of noise exposure, noise levels should be reduced to acceptable levels.

Noise Hazards

What is noise?

When air molecules surrounding our wars vibrate, parts inside the ear can sense the changes in pressure. These parts amplify the vibrations and ultimately cause tiny hairs in the inner ear to bend. Bending those hairs creates nerve impulses that the brain perceives as sound.

The hairs can easily deform and return to their original position. However, if the vibrations are too strong, or they last for an extended period, the hairs can be permanently damaged causing hearing loss.

In general, noise is an unwanted sound. When it comes to the workplace, noise is sound that is intense enough to cause hearing damage.

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How do I know if noise levels in my workplace are safe?

The hazard noise poses is dose-related. The higher the dose of noise a worker receives the greater the risk to the workers hearing.

A workers noise dose is dependent on the following 3 factors:

  • Intensity/Loudness: This factor is measured by a noise level meter and the units are described in decibels (dB)
  • Frequency: Frequencies between 3000-4000 Hz are most likely to damage human hearing. Sound level meters account for this by using an “A” weighted filter
  • Duration: The length of time you have been exposed to noise

WorkSafeBC has strict limits for the intensity of sound permissible in the workplace. OHSR 7.2 sets the following exposure limits:

  • 85 dBA daily noise exposure level (A-weighted filter, averaged over an 8 hour period)
  • 140 dBC peak sound level (maximum intensity on a C-weighted filter)

TO provide some perspective, 85 dBA sounds like a kitchen blender operating on high. 140 dBC sounds like a military aircraft with afterburners on.


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How can I measure noise levels in my workplace?

You can download an application on your smartphone, however the microphone in your device is likely not able to accurately detect higher intensity sounds.

To obtain accurate results, workplace noise is often measured using a noise dosimeter or sound level meter. If you are concerned that noise in your workplace exceeds 85 dBA, contact the Occupational Hygienist to arrange an on-site noise assessment. This assessment will determine if a hearing test is required and if other controls need to be used in that area.

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How can I reduce noise hazards?

As with any exposure, start by using the hierarchy of controls.

Control Type Examples
Elimination/Substitution Find a workplace away from the noise
Engineering Controls Use equipment designed to minimize noise, maintain/lubricate moving parts, use isolation booths/barriers
Administrative Controls Shift work hours, work at a distance, exposure control plans
Personal Protective Equipment Hearing protection devices such as earplugs or earmuffs.

Start by speaking to your supervisor to determine what is possible to implement in your workplace.

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Do I need a hearing test?

All workers who are exposed to noise that exceeds exposure limits (85 dBA daily or 140 dBC peak sound level) must receive a hearing test no later than 6 months after starting work and annually thereafter.

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What if noise is irritating but below exposure limits?

Noise levels below 85 dBA are not likely to damage hearing. However, this noise can have a psychological effect, cause stress, and impact employee performance. This noise is called nuisance noise.

The cause of nuisance noise are wide ranging and can be quite difficult to control. Due to its effect on employees, it should be minimized where possible and should be managed at a local level.

Relevant resources:

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