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In the past year, the Ontario government has introduced some additions and changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) with the hope of providing additional protection and information to workers regarding hazardous working conditions. Within this post, we will be focusing on the new regulations on noisy work environments and how employers and employees are affected.
In the summer of 2016, a new regulation was inserted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) which seeks to protect workers from the dangers of noise. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board defines ‘noise’ as unwanted sound not occurring in the natural environment, such as sounds from machinery, highway traffic, industrial, commercial and residential sources. Workers who are not sufficiently protected could result in permanent hearing loss. This new regulation applies to all workers governed by the OHSA.
The regulation requires employers to take all reasonable measures to protect workers from hazardous sound levels. Depending on the workplace environment, the level of protection will differ significantly, even if the work being done is identical. A bartender of a busy nightclub will have a much higher risk of hazardous noise than a bartender at a country club. Employers that do not regularly deal with hazardous noise must nevertheless still consider situations when it may happen and prepare appropriately.
Employers must ensure that no worker is exposed to sound level greater than the 85 dBA without some protection. Environments that require work with chain saws, dance clubs, rock concerts, or other work with heavy machinery will impose a greater duty on employers to take appropriate action. Employers who do not adequately protect workers may be penalized through fines, or risk increased premiums under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
As with many aspects of work, the employee must also be proactive to ensure their safety. If conditions are suspected to be unsafe, most employees can exercise a right to refuse work until it is inspected by the employer or potentially a designated government safety inspector. If harm has already occurred, employees must be prudent in seeking medical attention and consider a claim to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Both employers and employees must act prudently to ensure that a dangerous situation does not become unmanageable.
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