new workplace noise regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) comes into effect on July 1, 2016 in Ontario. It harmonizes and replaces the noise protection requirements of three existing regulations, in order to cover all workplaces governed by OHSA, whereas the previous regulations addressed specific sectors only.
The new regulation (O. Reg. 381/15 Noise) supplants the current noise protection requirements for Industrial Establishments (O. Reg. 851, s. 139), Mines and Mining Plants (O. Reg. 854, s. 293.1), and Oil and Gas – Offshore (O. Reg. 855, s. 41). No changes have been made to the current 8-hour-equivalent time-weighted exposure limit of 85 dBA, or the obligations for employers to take all reasonable measures to protect workers from exposure to hazardous sound levels. But the new regulation emphasizes that these responsibilities apply to all employers, not just those in the three sectors currently targeted.
According to the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board, Noise Induced Hearing Loss is an occupational disease recognized in the Workplace Safety & Insurance Act. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety states that noise is one of the most common occupational health hazards.
To minimize the risk of adverse noise exposure, noise should be limited to acceptable levels through the implementation of engineered noise controls to the source itself, such as silencers, enclosures, or acoustical wrapping. In some cases, alterations to the workplace environment can be effective, such as the use of acoustically absorptive wall or ceiling panels, or localized noise barriers. Where engineering modifications cannot adequately control a noise excess, properly selected personal hearing protection (such as ear muffs and/or plugs) can be used.
Proactively ensuring a healthy and safe work environment often leads to a more productive workforce and can lower the risk of workplace related incidents and injuries. Many companies already have in place hearing conversation programs as part of their Health and Safety Policies, often as a result of recommendations made by Joint Health & Safety Committees, industry associations, or contractual obligations stipulated by clients. These best practices should be considered by employers who are newly responsible for limiting workplace noise, under O. Reg. 381/15: Noise.