More oil-and-gas drill workers are losing their hearing despite more of them using ear protection
Although more workers in the oil and gas drilling sector are using ear plugs than ever before, work-related hearing loss is on the rise. According to WorkSafeBC, hearing-test data shows that noise-induced hearing loss in the industry has gone up over the past five years, and more than half of the affected workers are under 35.
Due to high noise levels in the oil-and-gas industry, WorkSafeBC is warning that workers who don’t wear ear protection properly are at risk of permanently damaging their hearing.
Sasha Brown, a WorkSafeBC occupational audiologist, suspects it’s because hearing protection isn’t being used properly.“It does seem counterintuitive that people are wearing hearing protection and still getting hearing loss,” Brown said.
Using results collected by employers, the agency reports that in 2012, 33 percent of workers tested had some kind of hearing loss from their careers, and in 2017 the percentage of workers who had lost hearing on the job was 45 percent. At the same time, the percentage of workers using hearing protection rose from 94 to 98 percent. This stands in sharp contrast to other noisy work industries, for which, in 2017, only 13 percent of workers showed noise-induced hearing loss.
“People are wearing hearing protection, which is fantastic,” she said. However, because they’re still experiencing hearing loss, Brown said it’s clear that simply using hearing protection isn’t enough.
“Not only do you have to wear hearing protection but you have to wear it properly and you have to wear it all the time,” Brown said.
Hearing – WCB Regulation on Hearing Loss
According to WorkSafeBC regulations, employers in oil and gas drilling sector must provide yearly hearing tests for their workers and provide the results to the agency. While visiting oil and gas rigs up in Fort St. John last year, Brown saw many people using foam earplugs, but she said they were often inserted incorrectly.
“When the noise is as loud as it can be in oil and gas, that’s not enough (to just insert earplugs). I think part of the problem is we’re seeing this heavy reliance on those compressible foam earplugs, which can be excellent but they can also be worn improperly very, very easily,” Brown said.
According to WorkSafeBC safety instructions, foam earplugs must be properly squished down and rolled, and a person should pull their ear up and back before inserting it into the ear canal. When inserted properly, the earplugs shouldn’t be visible when looking at a person from the front. They also come in different sizes, Brown said, and if they’re too big or too small they can fall out easily. And, depending on noise levels, sometimes workers need to be wearing over-the-ear ear muffs in addition to the earplugs. Of the 294 B.C. oil-and-gas drilling workers who experienced hearing loss, 194 of them were 35-years-old or younger. And then there is custom hearing protection, fitting the ear close to perfect. They are snug and custom to the wearer’s ear. Learn More..
To remedy the issue, WorkSafeBC is releasing safety warning bulletins to workers and employers and it will continue to monitor the workers’ mandated yearly hearing tests.
Author: Tessa Vikander is a Vancouver-based reporter covering identity and inequality.