Nearly two years after its publication in the Gazette officielle du Québec, the Regulation to amend the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety has officially taken effect. These amendments aim to update the regulatory provisions concerning the prevention of noise exposure in the workplace, and, in turn, bring about changes to employers’ obligations.
Since June 16, 2023, Québec employers are bound by new occupational health and safety obligations. Let’s delve into a concise overview of these obligations, focusing on the identification, correction and control of noise exposure in the workplace.
In addition to the general obligation stated in the Act respecting occupational health and safety, CQLR c S-2.1, which requires employers to utilize methods for identifying, controlling, and eliminating risks that could impact workers’ health and safety, the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety, CQLR c S-2.1, r 13 (RROHS) introduces a specific obligation for employers. They must now identify work situations that are likely to exceed exposure limit values within their establishments and determine practical measures to eliminate or reduce noise at the source, ensure compliance with established values, and minimize workers’ exposure.
Employers have a grace period of one year, starting from June 16, 2023, to conduct the initial assessment, and must repeat the assessment every five years.
It is worth noting that the daily noise exposure limit value has been revised. Previously set at 90dBa for a standard working day, it has now been adjusted to 85dBA for the same eight-hour period.
Since 2001, employers have to implement measures for preventing noise exposure. With the recent updates in the RROHS, clear deadlines are now established for their implementation.
The priority is to adopt measures that eliminate or reduce noise at the source, and the implementation of these actions must be undertaken within one year of assessing work situations that exceed the limit values. In cases where these initial measures are insufficient to ensure compliance with exposure limits, employers must implement other reasonable means identified during the assessment. The implementation of these additional means must be completed before the commencement of the next five-year assessment.
As a last resort, measures like the use of hearing protectors or the reduction of workers’ daily exposure time can be employed. However, these should only be considered when reasonable means are currently being implemented, when they cannot be practically applied, or when they are found to be insufficient in effectively reducing noise exposure.
Let’s discuss the various reasonable means that can be implemented, as defined in the RROHS:
- Elimination or reduction at source: This entails replacing noisy machinery or equipment, conducting regular maintenance and upkeep or implementing corrective measures.
- Compliance with limit values: Employers can adopt various means to limit noise propagation, such as enclosing noisy machinery or equipment or soundproofing rooms or designated areas.
- Reducing workers’ exposure: Employers can insulate workstations.
As of June 16, the following requirement, previously limited to establishments with more than 50 workers, applies to all employers: they must have their noise exposure measured by a qualified person either upon completing the implementation of reasonable means or within 30 days after the allowed period for identifying such means, in cases where no reasonable means can be applied.
Measurement reports must be saved in a register or incorporated into the prevention program for a period of 10 years, as well as a list of work situations that pose risks of exceeding limit values, along with the date of their identification, the reasonable means adopted and the dates of their implementation.
Furthermore, under these amendments, when hearing protectors are required to be worn, employers are now required to offer theoretical and practical training to employees, covering essential aspects such as the selection, fitting, inspection and maintenance of hearing protectors. The training should also address the potential risks associated with noise exposure and underscore the importance of wearing such protectors throughout the entire duration of exposure to noise.
The primary objective of this regulatory update is to protect the health of workers by mitigating the risk of occupational deafness and reducing workplace accidents. Beyond potentially causing hearing impairments in exposed workers, noise exposure can also hamper their concentration, comprehension of verbal instructions and awareness of audible warnings, thereby increasing the likelihood of accidents. As the use of hearing protectors does not eliminate these risks, it becomes imperative for employers to adopt an approach that prioritizes the elimination and reduction of noise at its source, in line with the requirement of the RROHS.
If you would like to discuss the impact of these changes on your rights and obligations, or if you have any questions about the Québec occupational health and safety plan, please contact Sarah-Émilie Dubois or any member of the Employment and Labour group in the Montréal office.