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WorkSafeBC data shows steady rise in hearing loss among oil and gas drilling workers

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RICHMOND, B.C. — WorkSafeBC is raising concerns about an increase in hearing loss among workers in the oil and gas drilling sector and is alerting employers and workers with a new safety bulletin.

The agency said in a release that hearing-test data collected by employers in the oil and gas drilling sector over the past five years shows that the percentage of workers with signs of noise-induced hearing loss has increased by 12 percent.

In 2012, 33 percent of workers had indicated hearing loss, but by last year that number had risen to 45 percent. In comparison, only 13 percent of workers in all other noisy industries tested positive for noise-induced hearing loss in 2017.

Out of the 294 oil and gas drilling workers with hearing loss, 194 — or 65 percent — were under the age of 35. Since 2006 WorkSafeBC said that there have been more than 41,000 accepted claims for NIHL in B.C.

While the percentage of workers with NIHL has increased in the drilling sector, WorkSafe said that the percentage of workers who reported wearing a hearing protection device has also increased, from 94 to 98 percent, with a heavy reliance on A-plugs, commonly known as foam earplugs.

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“There are a number of reasons why workers may be diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss even though they are wearing some form of hearing protection,” says Sasha Brown, WorkSafeBC occupational audiologist. “The earplugs or earmuffs might be the wrong size, inserted or worn incorrectly, not worn for long enough, or they may not be providing enough protection for the duration and intensity of noise exposure.”

WorkSafeBC said that employers can take a number of measures to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, including:

  • Ensuring all workers who are at risk are wearing sufficient hearing protection that fits, and that they understand how to properly wear it.
  • Making sure workers insert or wear the correct hearing protection prior to entering a noisy environment and wear it until after exiting the noisy location.
  • Rotating workers to different positions so they spend less time in noisy environments.
  • Identifying potential engineering controls to mitigate risk of exposure.
  • Ensuring workers have their hearing tested and are aware of their hearing-test results.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and Guidelines, employers are required to provide hearing-loss prevention programs, monitor noise levels and conduct annual hearing tests for workers exposed to hazardous noise levels to prevent permanent hearing damage.

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Hazardous noise levels are defined as 85 decibels in the A scale for eight hours or the equivalent; the A scale is used for measuring environmental noise. All workers are responsible for wearing appropriate hearing protection and taking part in their employer’s hearing-loss prevention program.

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Along with the new safety bulletin, WorkSafeBC has additional online resources to assist in understanding and preventing noise-induced hearing loss, including: Hearing protection is a sound ideaSound Advice: A Guide to Hearing Loss Prevention Programs; and The Hearing Video.

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