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Proposed Changes to Ontario’s Health & Safety Regulations for Noise

Ontario Regulation 851

 By David S. Cmar

Winter 2006

The Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) is currently consulting on proposed changes to the noise requirements in the Regulation for Industrial Establishments (Regulation 851) under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).  The MOL’s purpose and reasoning behind this consultation can be found on the Ministry’s web page:  http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/noise/

Interested stakeholders are invited by the MOL to comment on these proposed changes.  In order to ensure these changes reflect not only ‘expert’ opinions on noise regulation, but also those from industries and others that will be dealing with the implementation of changes, it is imperative that you make your voice heard.  The deadline for submission of comments is February 24, 2006.

Phase To of Canada, Inc. is in the process of developing some formal comments on the proposed changes, and we wanted to take this opportunity to promote discussion of the changes and solicit input from any interested parties.

Current Regulatory Framework

The current Industrial regulation contains a table that provides an allowable noise exposure of 90 dBA for 8 hours, with other permissible exposures derived using a 5-decibel (dB) exchange rate.  Employers covered by this regulation are expected to take measures to reduce noise.  If controls are not practical to implement, they must provide hearing protection and post warning signs.

The current regulation assumes there is no variation in noise levels throughout a workday or workweek, so it does not include highly variable noise levels or impact noise.  This approach does not incorporate a formula to permit the consideration of duration of exposure to various noise levels, in order to calculate an average noise exposure measurement or limit.

Proposal to Update the Noise Requirements in Regulation 851

The Ministry proposes to revoke the current noise provisions in Regulation 851 and replace them with the following key elements:

  1. A time-weighted average exposure limit of 85 dBA (known as the Leq, or equivalent noise limit, which is based on a 3 dB exchange rate); and,
  2. A 140 dBC ceiling limit.

In this proposal, if controls are not practical to implement, employers would continue to be required to take measures to reduce noise, and to provide hearing protection and post warning signs.

Various consequential amendments may also be required, such as:

  • Updating the definition of decibel,
  • Providing a definition of dBC, and;
  • Permitting the use of integrating sound level meters and when necessary, personal dosimeters, as well as the sound level meters (currently required) to measure sound.

How will these changes affect industrial establishments?

The most significant aspect of these changes is the move from 90 to 85 dBA for the allowable noise exposure limit.  Many companies may already have policies that require actions such as noise control and mandatory hearing protection at 85 dBA.  Those companies that don’t have an 85 dBA policy (this may include many smaller business in Ontario) will likely need to reassess the levels in their facilities and implement controls and hearing protection policies for newly identified ‘at-risk’ employees. 

Are Proposed Regulation 851 Noise Requirement Updates Sufficient?

The Ministry’s intent for Regulation 851 is to ensure the health and safety of Ontario workers.  The introduction of an 85 dBA (Leq) time-weighted average exposure limit and a C-weighted 140 decibel peak ceiling limit should be viewed as welcomed changes.

The use of the 85 dBA Leq and 140 dBA limits are very appropriate metrics in helping to assess employee risk of occupationally related noise induced hearing loss.  However, similar regulations recently enacted in British Columbia and Alberta incorporate more comprehensive regulation for noise assessment as well as hearing conservation programs that can serve as good templates for changes in Ontario as well.  It is important that efforts to change the legislation governing workplace noise are focused on ensuring that the hearing health of Ontario workers is protected.  This also produces innumerable benefits for business.  The reduced compensation costs and insurance premiums are evident, but other critical areas such as productivity, communication and employee motivation are under-appreciated benefit.  In order to achieve this though a regulatory framework that rewards companies that implement good practice and protects them from and employers are provided with a regulatory framework that rewards good practices through clear and consistent requirements.  

Suggested Changes to the Regulation 851 Noise Requirement

Phase To, Inc. (PTI) has identified some areas that can help the regulation achieve a balance between protecting workers and providing the necessary guidance for companies in achieving this goal.

Audiometric Testing Requirements

A requirement for employers to provide audiometric testing for employees identified as at risk for hearing loss is not currently part of the regulations.  While testing by itself does not prevent hearing loss, it does serve two important purposes:

1)   An evaluation can be made as to the effectiveness of noise control and hearing protection efforts based upon the incidence rate for hearing loss.

2)   Employers have an opportunity to document the hearing acuity of employees on an on-going basis.  This proves to be extremely helpful when companies are dealing with claims for compensation, especially if a significant period of time has passed between the time the hearing loss has occurred and the time that the employee worked for the employer.

Audiometric testing is required as part of a Hearing Conservation program in several jurisdictions in Canada including British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.  It is also mandated in the United States under federal OSHA regulations.

Requirements for audiometric testing (hearing test) should be mandated in the Regulation.  While this test is considered a ‘trailing indicator’, it can be used as an important measure to track hearing conservation effectiveness.

Education and Training
Annual employee education and training should also be included in the regulations.  To ensure the health and safety of employees, they must be made aware of the dangers associated with noise induced hearing loss.  In addition, they must be shown how to properly wear hearing protection.  Issuing hearing protection alone is simply not sufficient.  It is widely know that the noise reduction from an improperly fitted hearing protector is much lower than that of a properly inserted hearing protector by a trained user.

Exposure Assessment

The current and proposed regulations set limits on employee exposure, and will likely address the assessment procedure by referencing the current CSA Z107 standard.  There is no language to address when exposure assessment should be made.  It would be helpful to provide health and safety managers with guidelines to determine when additional assessments are to be made.  The requirements for noise measurement should include re-evaluation when process or work pattern changes indicate the potential that additional employees are being exposed above the action level.  In addition, exposure assessments should be re-evaluated when sound levels may have increased to a point where current hearing protection may be insufficient. 

Employers should be required to keep records to show the results of employee noise exposure risk; audiometric tests; and that employees have been trained on the effects of noise and the proper use of hearing protection.  As noise induced hearing loss is a cumulative process that occurs over time, it is recommended that these records minimally be kept for the duration that a employee is retained by the employer.  This ensures that information is retained that documents a company’s adherence to meeting the provincial requirements and also provides a solid framework for investigation of future hearing loss claims.

What Do You Think?

Phase To of Canada, Inc. will be submitting formal comments to the MOL regarding the proposed changes to Regulation 851.  We believe that the proposed changes as well as additional items outlined in this article will help to ensure that both worker and employer will benefit from a well defined and up-to-date regulation.

We encourage all affected stakeholders to take this opportunity to make their voice heard in this important discussion.  If you are interested in learning more about the comments that we will be submitting, or how these changes may affect your business, please contact us and we will be pleased to share our experience with you.

Mr. Cmar is President/CEO of Phase To of Canada, Inc. and also in charge of Business Development for Phase To, Inc.  Mr. Cmar has over 15 years of experience in acoustics, noise engineering and hearing conservation consulting.  He can be reached at (519) 734-7001 or email davecmar@phasteo.com



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