Abstract

Background

Health and safety legislation is designed to protect workers from hazards, including excessive noise. However, some workers are not required to use hearing protection when exposed to loud noise and may be vulnerable to adverse outcomes, including hearing difficulties and tinnitus.

Data and methods

Data for 19- to 79-year-olds (n=6,571) were collected from 2012 through 2015 as part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey. People exposed to loud workplace noise were defined as those who had to raise their voices to communicate at arm’s length. Vulnerable workers were defined as those who were not required to use hearing protection when working in noisy environments and who only used hearing protection sometimes, rarely or never.

Results

An estimated 11 million Canadians (43%) have worked in noisy environments, and over 6 million of them (56%) were classified as vulnerable to workplace noise. Although the percentage of vulnerable women (72%) was greater than that of men (48%), men outnumbered women in these circumstances at 3.7 million, compared with 2.4 million. The self-employed were more likely than employees to be vulnerable, as were those in white-collar versus blue-collar occupations. Vulnerable workers were more likely to report hearing difficulties and tinnitus than those who had never worked in a noisy environment.

Interpretation

A large percentage of workers exposed to noisy workplaces were vulnerable because hearing protection was neither required nor routinely used. Further work is required to assess whether this reflects gaps in health and safety legislation or its implementation.

Keywords

Hazardous noise, self-reported hearing difficulties, hearing impaired persons, occupational health and safety, tinnitus, hearing protection

Findings

Excessive workplace noise can contribute to elevated blood pressure, sleep disturbance, stress, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), tinnitus and other negative health conditions. An estimated 22.4 million U.S. workers (17%) reported that, in their current jobs, they had to speak in raised voices to be heard. This is indicative of a hazardous noise level equivalent to at least 85 dB. Over 11 million Canadians (42%) worked in noisy environments in 2012 and 2013, or had done so in the past. [Full Text]

Authors

Pamela Ramage-Morin (Pamela.Ramage-Morin@canada.ca) is with the Health Analysis Division, and Marc Gosselin is the Head of Security and Occupational Health and Safety Policies at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6.

Start of text box

 

What is already known on this subject?

  • Excessive workplace noise is a hazard that contributes to hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Legislation that specifies occupational exposure limits to noise differs by federal, provincial and territorial jurisdiction and does not cover all workers, such as the self-employed and those performing unpaid work.

What does this study add?

  • Among the 11 million Canadians who have worked in noisy environments, over 6 million (56%) were “vulnerable” to excessive noise, having reported that they were not required to wear hearing protection and only did so sometimes, rarely or never.
  • Although more men than women worked in noisy workplaces, women were more likely to be vulnerable, at 72%, compared with 48% for men.
  • Vulnerable workers were more likely than those who have never worked in a noisy environment to report hearing difficulties and tinnitus.

End of text box

Date modified: