Exposure to harmful levels of noise is a growing concern in many workplaces. According to both the Ministry of Labour and WSIB Ontario, occupational noise induced hearing loss has become one of the most common - and most preventable - occupational diseases.
The Ontario government recently approved a new Noise Regulation (O. Reg. 381/15) under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Noise Regulation, set to come into force on July 1, 2016, ushers in two fundamental changes.
First, the Noise Regulation consolidates the noise protection requirements set out in the regulations for Industrial Establishments, Mines and Mining Plants, and Oil and Gas-Offshore into a single comprehensive regulation.
Second, the Noise Regulation extends the noise protection requirements contained in the pre-existing regulations to all workplaces.
Under the Noise Regulation, employers are required to take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect their workers from exposure to hazardous sound levels. Subsumed in this broad requirement are several more specific requirements for employers, including:
- employers must limit the exposure of workers who are exposed to noise to a maximum time-weighted limit of 85 decibels over an eight-hour shift (as calculated by the Noise Regulation);
- employers must put in place measures to reduce workers’ exposure based on a “hierarchy of controls,” which could include engineering controls, work practices, and the use of personal protective equipment in the form of hearing protection devices;
- employers who provide hearing protection devices must provide adequate training to employees who use those devices; and
- employers must, where practicable, post a clearly visible warning sign at every approach to an area where the sound level regularly exceeds 85 decibels.
It would be prudent for employers to consider whether their workplaces will be impacted by this Noise Regulation and, if so, to take steps now to ensure compliance by July 1, 2016.