Hearing Protection in the Workplace
Although permanent or temporary hearing loss can develop rapidly, it can also develop so gradually that one is unaware it is happening. Sustained noise levels can also cause increased blood pressure and levels of stress
Risks and hazards to hearing
- Deafness may result from exposure to high noise levels when:
- Flying in aircraft
- Working around helicopter landing sites
- During slinging operations
- Working around heavy machinery and generators
- Using machinery (e.g., chainsaws, rock saws, drills)
- Ear infections caused by using dirty earplugs.
- Serious injury or death may result if you are unable to hear alarms or warning sounds such as those on heavy equipment or fire alarms.
Prevention and preparation
Helicopter engines, chainsaws and drilling equipment etc., frequently produce noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The louder the noise, the shorter the duration needed to damage your hearing and result in permanent hearing loss. Even sustained noise levels in the moderate range can result in permanent hearing damage. Preserve your hearing by using hearing PPE and wearing it the entire time you are exposed to noise hazards.
A noisy work area should be monitored to determine the noise level. A company should try to reduce excessive noise by engineering it out, controlling or diminishing it through good maintenance, acquiring quieter equipment, and/or reducing the time that employees are exposure to the noise. Hearing PPE is essential, but additional efforts should be made to control noise.
Hearing protection should be worn when noise levels are high, such as when operating certain tools or equipment and during noisy activities. Some examples include:
- Helicopter and charter aircraft flights: Use disposable earplugs during all helicopter and charter aircraft flights. Some companies provide earmuffs for all passengers. Use these in addition to earplugs when appropriate.
- Chainsaws, rock saws
- Drilling sites
- Equipment such as rock crushers and pulverizers, air hammers, pluggers
- Riding muskeg tractors, snowmobiles
- Any activity where there is potential for exposure to excessive noise
Earmuffs and Earplugs
Employees should be trained to properly fit and maintain their earmuffs and earplugs. Make sure hair and glasses do not interfere with hearing protection. Earmuffs are available to accommodate specific noise levels and in different styles for use with hard hats and for people who wear glasses. Earmuffs are the preferred PPE for noise reduction as they generally provide superior protection and are safer to use than earplugs. Use earmuffs that fit correctly and are comfortable. Companies should consider providing an annual hearing test to detect changes in hearing when employees work where noise levels are a hazard.
- They must fit tightly to be effective.
- Replace the outer foam cushions when they become worn or brittle.
- They must be worn correctly to be effective. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to insert them.
- Take proper care of reusable earplugs and replace them as necessary. Try not to insert them with dirty fingers as you may transfer bacteria to your ear canal.
- Do not share earplugs, as infections can be transmitted between people this way.
- Disposable earplugs are intended for single use only so discard them after use.
- Use earplugs in conjunction with earmuffs for additional protection, as appropriate.
- Tip: If you use helicopters frequently, consider attaching reusable earplugs on a cord to your jacket or field vest so they are always available.
Audio entertainment devices and headsets
In general, it is not good practice to allow employees to wear personal electronic music devices with headphones or earplugs (including iPods) when working, especially with or around machinery, when riding ATVs or when traversing. Many people have the music turned up loud and as a result:
- They may not hear instructions or shouted warnings from co-workers - either in person or by radio communication.
- They may not hear warning sounds from machinery that is not functioning properly.
- They may not hear the audible backup warning signals from moving equipment.
- They may not become aware of dangers such as bears.
- They will be generally distracted from the job at hand thus increasing the risk of accidents.
Music played in camp from a portable radio through loudspeakers may be acceptable as long as it is not too loud; external sounds (e.g., warnings) must still be apparent. The project or camp supervisor should make clear protocols with respect to this topic and make sure they are followed. Wearing headphones when working on a computer or relaxing in the camp may be acceptable as long as the music is not at unacceptably high levels and does not interfere with the work of others