Noise Exposure In The Workplace: Is Your Work Too Loud?

Noise exposure in the workplace, including at the gym


I joined a new gym this month which is great for my health and fitness. But as I sat listening to the music increase in volume for the 60-second sprint on the stationary bike, it got me thinking about noise exposure.

Is your workplace too loud?

The leading cause of hearing loss is noise exposure, which ironically is also the most preventable form of hearing loss. For many people, the gradual decrease of hearing over time is not enough of a “cause and effect” to take more care in a noisy environment. This new gym I joined is fantastic, but I wondered about the trainer’s hearing health working in this loud environment for 4 hours a day.  

The impact of noise at work

More than 11 million Canadians have worked in a noisy environment. Of course, almost every workplace will have some level of noise. Whether the sound level is excessive depends on the risks associated with mental and physical health.

Excessive noise in the workplace can lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep disturbance or insomnia
  • Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)
  • Tinnitus
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Work-related stress

Occupational health and safety legislation helps protect workers from excessive noise. Remember – it’s not just obviously loud noise like a siren or saw that can cause hearing loss. For example, we have clients who worked below deck in a ship who have hearing loss after years of exposure to the low thrum of the engines. Less-obvious workplace noise – such as workout music – can be just as harmful to hearing health.

Allowable noise limits

So how much workplace noise is too much? This table from Statistics Canada shows how much noise is allowed in a workplace.

Stats Can Workplace Noise Limits

A sound’s loudness is measured in decibels (dB). For context, a conversation is about 60 dB, regular office noise is 70 dB, a chainsaw 106-115 dB and a gunshot or siren at 30 metres (100 feet) is 140 dB.

How can you tell if a workplace sound is too loud?

A loud workplace can cause occupational hearing loss with sudden, damaging noise or exposure to harmful noise levels over time.

Signs your workplace may be too loud

As a rule of thumb, if you’re a metre away and have to use your voice to be heard, the noise level may be around 85 dB.

Other indicators that it’s too loud may be:

  • Trouble hearing another person talk over the sound
  • Raising your voice to be heard
  • Ringing in your ears at the end of your workday
  • Other sounds seeming muffled or unclear after your workday

While apps on a smartphone or tablet can measure noise levels, they’re not sensitive enough to offer valid data. For assessing workplace noise levels, the accuracy provided by a calibrated external microphone is required.

Workplace hearing conservation programs

Broadmead Hearing - Noisy Construction Site

In workplaces in BC, the allowable noise limit is 85 dB over 8 hours. Impact noises, such as hammering or pile driving, must not exceed 140 dB.

According to WorkSafe BC, to reduce worker exposure to noise, a company will have a hearing conservation program in place that includes:

  • Noise measurement
  • Education and training
  • Hearing protection
  • Engineering controls
  • Identifying areas with hazardous noise levels
  • Hearing testing
  • Program review annually

If you’re concerned about noise levels at work, speak with your employer. Measuring the noise is the starting point.

How can you protect your hearing?

First, be aware of how loud a noisy sound is and how long you’re exposed to that sound. We think of it like this:

Loud enough x long enough = hearing loss.

It is hard to understand what is really happening in the ear during exposure. The most proactive step you can take is consistently using hearing protection. We offer various models of custom earplugs, including noise breakers for work, motorcycle ear molds that help eliminate wind noise, and custom earbuds for iPods. If your hearing has already been damaged, hearing aids will help preserve the hearing ability you have left.

As for me, I think I will try to be a role model for those around me and put in my custom hearing protection when I clip on my heart rate monitor. 

If you want to speak with an Audiologist about noise-induced hearing loss or custom ear plugs please call: Broadmead Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2969 or Oak Bay Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2921. Or request an appointment online.


This post has been updated from the original which was published 02/13/2015. We're happy to report that Erin is still going to the gym.