WorkSafeBC data collected by employers in 2015 from more than 150,000 hearing tests of workers in all industries in B.C. show noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is trending upwards among forestry workers — having increased from 11 to 20 per cent between 1995 and 2015.
Noise can pose serious health and safety issues, such as NIHL, for all workers, including those in forestry. Over time, if noise from machinery, processes and equipment is too loud, permanent hearing loss can result in workers who aren’t wearing appropriate hearing protection. Since 2006, WorkSafeBC has accepted more than 37,000 claims for NIHL across all industries.
NIHL can be caused by a single exposure to loud noise or, more typically, by repeated exposure to moderately-loud noise. For example, a manual faller exposed to noise at 103 decibels can work for up to seven-and-a-half minutes before the noise level becomes hazardous; by comparison, regular exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can also cause permanent hearing loss if a worker isn’t wearing proper hearing protection. While the damage may be painless, it is irreversible and may go unnoticed for years or even decades.
CSA Group (formerly the Canadian Standards Association) rates hearing protection as Class A, B or C, depending on how much noise reduction the protection provides. The recommended hearing protection for eight hours of exposure is as follows: Class C hearing protection for exposure less than 90 decibels; Class B for exposure between 90 and 95 decibels; Class A for exposure between 95 and 105 decibels; and dual hearing protection — a minimum of a Class B earmuff and a Class A earplug — for exposure of 105 decibels or greater.
Under B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and guidelines, employers are required to monitor noise levels, conduct annual hearing tests and provide hearing-loss prevention programs for workers exposed to hazardous noise. Workers are responsible for wearing appropriate hearing protection and taking part in their employers’ hearing-loss prevention programs.
A hearing-conservation program should be reviewed annually and include six basic components:
WorkSafeBC has online resources for workers and employers to assist in understanding and preventing NIHL, including a downloadable guide, Sound Advice: a Guide to Hearing Loss Prevention, a forestry-specific bulletin, How Loud is it?, and a pamphlet, Hear for Good: Preventing Noise Exposure at Work.
Budd Philips is the manager of prevention for field services with WorkSafeBC.