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WorkSafeBC warns about risk of hearing loss in service industry

3,343 disability claims made for noise-induced hearing loss in B.C. between 2008 and 2017
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Hearing loss
Occupational hearing loss can be prevented if employers, supervisors and employees work together to control noise exposure, said WorkSafeBC. SHUTTERSTOCK

WorkSafeBC recently raised awareness about the risk of hearing loss in the service industry, and it has alerted employers and workers with a new safety bulletin.

Regular exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dBA) can cause permanent hearing loss in unprotected workers, yet studies have found pubs and nightclubs in Vancouver and Victoria regularly exceed that during a regular shift, said WorkSafeBC.

“Noise is a serious and widespread problem in many workplaces, and this includes the service industry,” said Dan Strand, director of prevention services at WorkSafeBC. “Our research has found that most service-sector workers and employers are not aware of the risk of hearing loss in their industry.”

In addition to the safety bulletin, WorkSafeBC has several new online resources to raise awareness and understanding about noise-induced hearing loss, including three new videos: What Noise Does to Your Ears, Intensity and Duration of Noise, and How to Use Earplugs; and the recently published publication: Preventing noise-induced hearing loss at work, said the provincial government safety agency.

Occupational hearing loss can be prevented if employers, supervisors and employees work together to control noise exposure, said WorkSafeBC.

While hearing protection is key in the service industry, WorkSafeBC cautioned that bartenders, servers, and other workers are often reluctant to use hearing protection because they believe it will make it difficult to communicate with customers. In fact, this is not the case, according to WorkSafeBC.

Hearing protection devices protect workers, while still allowing them to hear clearly, usually even better than without them. WorkSafeBC said bartenders and servers should pick a style of hearing protection they like and that is most comfortable.

“Studies show that when noise levels reach 90 decibels or higher, hearing protection actually improves your ability to hear speech,” said Strand. “We need to change how we think about hearing protection in the service industry.”

Some key facts were produced by the agency to support their claim: If noise levels exceed 85 decibels over an eight-hour shift, employers are required by regulation to have a noise control and hearing conservation program. Key elements of such a program include noise measurement, hearing protection and annual hearing tests for workers, said WorkSafeBC.

Between 2008 and 2017, WorkSafeBC accepted 3,343 disability claims for noise-induced hearing loss in B.C. Finally, each year in B.C., there are more than 2,000 hearing-loss claims where health care benefits are paid in the form of hearing aids and accessories.

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