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Keep it down

By Isaac Rudik
| www.cos-mag.com

Noise is aggravating, whether at home, in a restaurant or on a loud street. But in the workplace, excessive noise is more than aggravating: It cuts productivity while creating serious health hazards for workers, which might lead to costly fines and workers’ compensation claims. 

Besides making it hard for workers to hear each other, excess workplace noise increases blood pressure, speeds breathing rates, disturbs digestion and, for people prone to heart disease, affects heart rates. And noise effects don’t stop: Studies show that exposure to ongoing noise makes sleep difficult.

For pregnant workers, excessive noise also can affect a developing fetus.

Little wonder noise is a serious problem that must be addressed seriously by businesses.

Noise is costly

Companies must protect workers from noise. Government inspectors apply four common-sense tests when checking noise levels before using meters to measure precise levels. But supervisors can perform these same checks long before the Ministry of Labour arrives.

In a noisy area, do people raise their voice to be heard?

Do workers have difficulty hearing someone speaking from two feet away?

After leaving a noisy area, does speech sound muffled or dull?

Is there a pain or ringing on the ears after noise exposure?

Companies that aren’t proactive can face major problems if the ministry finds excessive noise:

  • Employers must conduct a costly audit.
  • The company can be fined up to $75,000.
  • Fixing the problem means retaining costly noise abatement consultants.
  • The problem must be fixed quickly.
  • If there are noise-related injuries, the company must pay for treatment.
  • Worker compensation premiums rise by about 0.5 per cent.

For years, workplace noise was overlooked because of numerous problems. But today, new technology makes monitoring easier and in-house testing is relatively inexpensive. Moreover, installing sound absorbing material is much easier today than in the past.

As a result, the excuses companies hid behind for years are gone. So courts are awarding large sums to employees and levying hefty fines on companies violating noise rules.

Quiet down

Utilizing sound absorbing material as a barrier between machinery and employees helps reduce noise to allowable levels. Even better, sound-absorbing material placed on walls and ceilings helps reduce the chance of reflected noise that injure employees.

For example, grinding produces a shrieking sound, disturbing everyone nearby. One CSC customer’s grinding unit never caused a problem when it was in a separate building, away from other workers. But when a new, more efficient plant was built, the grinding room was in the main factory along with all manufacturing. Other work areas were noise-protected by installing shields on both sides of the operation and suspending sound absorbing baffles above the area.

Melamine Acoustic Foam on walls and ceilings offers good sound absorption in this kind of situation. It also enjoys Class 0 fire specification, meaning when exposed to naked flames it does not release toxic bi-products associated with other conventional polyurethane based acoustic foams.

Safe solutions

A misconception many companies have about noise is, “We’ve never had a problem.” But this head-in-the-sand approach is foolish; even the savviest Vegas gambler knows luck runs out eventually.

Reducing noise involves four, interrelated pieces:

  1. Barriers or screens offer a simple, effective way to reduce noise, placing it as close to the source as possible.
  2. The higher and wider the barrier, the greater the reduction.
  3. Barriers and screens work well against direct noise and poorly against reflective noise, not offering full protection against low frequency noise.
  4. Barriers should be made of dense, sound absorbing material and face the noise.

In dealing with noise abatement, too often companies commit one of two serious mistakes. Either they invest in compliance but don’t become compliant because they do the wrong thing, or the solution is insufficient. The other major error is failing to invest in a solution because, too often, a business doesn’t have a budget line item or they don’t believe it’s a major issue.

When dealing with these concerns, look for product suppliers that provide in-house expertise and work with third-party consultants to create a cost-effective and compliant solution. Find a supplier who works extensively with both industry and government, enhancing the ability to create a fix that meets budget restraints yet also meets government rules

As the economy grows tougher, companies must save money. Often safety is compromised by small budgets and this can be a company’s single most dangerous, costly mistake. While eliminating noise entirely is impossible, it can be brought within manageable – and legal – levels with limited budgets.

Isaac Rudik is a compliance consultant with Compliance Solutions Canada Inc. (www.compliancesolutionscanada.com), a provider of health, safety and environmental compliance solutions to industrial, institutional and government facilities. He may be reached by e-mail at irudik@csc-inc.ca or by calling 905-761-5354.

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