One-quarter of B.C.’s young construction workers are putting their hearing at risk

New data from WorkSafeBC shows that B.C.’s young construction workers are less likely to wear hearing protection than other age groups in the same industry, or even when compared to young workers in other industries. Training is key to preventing permanent hearing loss.

Construction sites are filled with high-risk activities like working at heights, using power tools, and working around moving equipment. When compared to those high-risk activities, loud noise may not be seen as much of a hazard. But, noise can be as devastating to a worker’s health as many of the other hazards typically associated with construction work.

And the danger is ever present. Consider that anything above 85 decibels is hazardous, and jackhammers and chainsaws, for example, run at 110 decibels; hammer drills at 115 decibels. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a 25-year-old carpenter exposed to extreme noise is likely to have hearing equivalent to a 50-year-old.

Despite the risk, almost one-quarter of B.C. construction workers 21-and-under report not wearing hearing protection. Young people are, in fact, far less likely to protect their ears than their older counterparts (24 percent for 21-and-unders, as opposed to 13 percent of over-50s). And young workers in construction are less likely to wear protection than young workers in other industries like manufacturing and primary resources. The data was collected in 2016 from more than 160,000 hearing tests conducted across B.C., as part of hearing loss prevention programs.

It’s costing employers a lot too. Since 2006, there have been more than 37,000 accepted claims for noise-induced hearing loss in B.C.

“Noise-induced hearing loss needs to be taken very seriously,” says Sasha Brown, WorkSafeBC occupational audiologist. “It can be caused by a single exposure to an extremely loud noise like an explosion, or more typically by repeated exposures to consistent noise. While the damage may be painless, it is irreversible and may go unnoticed for years or even decades until it reaches a point where it has a significant effect on one’s quality of life.”

Read the full article (and solutions) in WorkSafeBC's Magazine here.

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