In a Canadian study of the oil and gas drilling sector in the state of British Columbia, signs of NIHL in workers increased by 12% between 2012 and 2017.[i] This upward trend appears to contradict data on the use of foam earplug hearing protection, which increased by 4% (to 98%) in the same 5-year period.
In 2012, NIHL symptoms were recorded in 33% of employee hearing tests, increasing to 45% in 2017. This equated to 294 employees, of which 65% (194) were under the age of 35.
WorkSafeBC occupational audiologist, Sasha Brown, has warned that employers will not prevent the risk of NIHL onset in its staff simply by supplying hearing protection and ensuring that it is worn:
‘The ear plugs or ear muffs 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’.
According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, which came into force on 6 April 2006, if Lower Exposure Action Value (LEAV) [80 dB(A) Lep,d] is reached, employers are under a duty to strongly recommend the wearing of hearing protection to conserve hearing, but the wearing of hearing protection is optional. However, if the employee wears hearing protection, the employer has to provide proper and adequate protection and training on how to use it correctly, maintain and replace it.
If the Upper Exposure Action Value (UEAV) [85 dB(A) Lep’d] is reached, employers must provide and enforce the wearing of proper and adequate hearing protection, supported by signage. Further, training on how to correctly use, maintain and replace protection, must be provided.
The LEAV and UEAV replaced the 1st (85-89 Lep,d) and 2nd (90+ Lep,d) Action Levels. These were founded in the Noise at Work Regulations 1989, which came into force on 1 January 1990.
It is clear from this research, therefore, that while employers may have improved their enforcement of hearing protection in the workplace, they may not be simultaneously checking that hearing protection is properly fitted and effective.
This is necessary, if an employer wishes to rely on a breach of duty defence to a NIHL claim.
[i] ‘Hearing-test data reveals steady rise in hearing loss among oil and gas drilling workers’ (22 August 2018 WorkSafe BC) <https://www.worksafebc.com/en/about-us/news-events/news-releases/2018/August/hearing-test-data-reveals-steady-rise-in-hearing-loss-among-oil-gas-drilling-workers> accessed 30 August 2018.