Canadian Occupational Safety

March/April 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 16 of 35 17 hearing protectors should be used. Ear plugs work by stopping the passage of noise energy to the inner ear, Behar says. While they are an effective way to block out noise, hearing protectors can also create problems for workers. "First, people are not comfortable wearing them, and comfort is number 1 with plugs or muffs. Muffs are hot because they enclose your outer ear and it's uncomfortable. The plug is something you put into your ear, and now there's a pressure there, so it's also uncomfortable," he says. According to the WorkSafeBC bulletin, bartenders, servers and other industry workers are often reluctant to use hearing protection because they believe it will make it difficult to communicate with customers. However, hearing protection devices protect workers while still allowing them to hear clearly, usually even better than without them, the agency says. "Studies show that when noise levels reach 90 decibels or higher, hearing protection actually improves your ability to hear speech," said Dan Strand, director of prevention services at WorkSafeBC, in the bulletin. "We need to change how we think about hearing hearing protection; the first step in hearing conservation is reducing the noise at its source," she says. Bars and nightclubs often have design features — high ceilings and hard floors and surfaces — that reflect sound around the room and magnify noise. To dampen the sound, employers can cover walls and ceilings with sound-absorbing materials. They can install carpeting or use soft, sound-absorbing ceiling tiles to muffle noise coming from hard floors. Curtains will absorb sound bouncing off glass windows. In hospitals and other health-care facilities, noise can be reduced by using floor mats and lowering the volume on alerting bells and phones. Loud equipment can sometimes be modified to produce less noise; otherwise, managers can isolate the equipment, or put sound walls or curtains between the equipment and workers. Additionally, when well maintained, machinery and equipment work more quietly. But loud noise is not the only potential contributor to hearing loss in the health-care sector. Some drugs — including anticancer, anti- inflammatory, antithrombotic, antimalarial and antirheumatic drugs — are classified as ototoxic, meaning exposure to them can elevate workers' risk for hearing damage. Occupational health professionals should seek to reduce worker exposure to these drugs. Effective administrative controls may be implemented as well. For example, employers can provide quiet areas for workers or modify work shifts to limit individual workers' exposure to noise. Protecting workers' hearing If engineering and administrative controls cannot be used, then personal "People tend to think that more attenuation is better. But that, in fact, can lead to safety risks if you can't hear something. You have to bring it down to a safe level, but it doesn't have to be way beyond that." Anna Van Maanen, WorkSafeBC protection in the service industry." When selecting plugs, there are many variables to consider: What attenuation level is needed for an area? How comfortable are they to wear? Do some workers already have some hearing loss and so need a different attenuation level? What are the workers' communication and listening needs during the job? One effective ear plug used by people who work in bars and nightclubs is called a flat-attenuation plug. These devices are generally affordable and comfortable. They come in flange rubber plugs and custom-moulded plugs, typically made of silicone or vinyl materials. "Most hearing protectors don't attenuate all pitches the same. You may get more attenuation in the high pitches than in the low pitches, so the sound is muffled and distorted, as well as being attenuated," Van Maanen says. "But with flat attenuation plugs, the sound is attenuated equally or close to equally across the pitch, or frequency, spectrum. The sound is just dampened, and the pitch and everything else doesn't change. There's not the distortion there." These types of earplugs are designed to allow the hertz levels of voices to MAXIMUM UNPROTECTED EXPOSURE TIME The risk of hearing loss depends on the noise level and duration of exposure. This table shows how long unprotected workers can be exposed to certain levels of noise without harm. Source: WorkSafeBC 16 hours 82 dBA 12 hours 83 dBA 10 hours 84 dBA 8 hours 85 dBA 4 hours 88 dBA 2 hours 91 dBA 1 hour 94 dBA 30 minutes 97 dBA 15 minutes 100 dBA 7.5 minutes 103 dBA 3 minutes, 45 seconds 106 dBA 1 minute, 50 seconds 109 dBA 1 minute 112 seconds 30 seconds 115 dBA

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