Noise: An Invisible Safety Hazard

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Anyone who has watched any of the soccer matches during the current World Cup has heard what sounds like a huge swarm of buzzing bees. Of course, the sound isn’t really bees but vuvuzelas, plastic horns used by fans to cheer on their teams. Some players, coaches and broadcasters have complained that the noise from the vuvuzelas is distracting. But it may be worse than that—it might actually be a safety hazard.

Noise & Sporting Events

According to the NIOSH Science Blog, a recent study found that the actual sound output created by the vuvuzela reached dangerously high levels, averaging 131 decibels, A-weighted (dBA) at the horn opening and 113 (dBA) at a 2-meter distance from the vuvuzela. Eight of the 10 study participants experienced peak sound pressure levels that exceeded 140 (dB) with a maximum peak level reaching 144 (dB). In comparison, a jet engine at takeoff measures 130-140 (dB). These levels exceed most national and international standards on permissible exposure limits.

But you don’t need vuvuzelas to create excessive noise at a sporting event. For example, the noise at this year’s Superbowl was unbelievably loud. In fact, it was so loud that when Drew Brees, MVP and QB of the winning New Orleans Saints, lifted his son Baylen aloft to celebrate, the one-year-old boy was wearing headphones to protect his ears from the stadium’s roar. And audiologists were thrilled! According to the New York Times, noise levels that are dangerous for adults are even more dangerous for kids.

Noise in the Workplace

While parents have a duty to protect their children’s ears from excessive noise, employers have a duty to protect their workers’ ears. The noise level in some workplaces is deafening—both literally and figuratively. Long-term exposure to excessive noise can cause a whole host of hearing problems, including tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss. To make matters worse, many workers don’t realize that they’re suffering from hearing loss because the symptoms are generally painless and develop gradually over time. And by the time they do notice what’s happening to them, it may be too late because noise-induced hearing loss can’t be reversed.

The OHS laws of every Canadian jurisdiction require employers to protect workers from exposure to excessive noise in the workplace. As with other physical hazards, such as heat stress and electricity, the preferred approach is for employers to implement engineering measures to eliminate the hazard. If engineering solutions aren’t feasible, employers are supposed to minimize or control workers’ exposure to the hazard through the use of administrative measures, work practices, PPE and training.

Click here for more on how noise is regulated by the OHS laws.