N.L.'s lost-time injury rate at all-time low, but hearing loss continues to rise

Despite Newfoundland and Labrador's lost-time incidence rate being at a historic low, hearing loss injuries continue to climb.
Newfoundland and Labrador's lost-time injury rate is at an all-time low but hearing-loss injuries have risen for four straight years. (Bangkoker/Shutterstock)

Despite Newfoundland and Labrador's lost-time incidence rate being at a historic low, hearing loss injuries continue to climb.

Workplace NL, the provincial organization that handles workers' compensation and insurance, released its 2017 report this week, showing 1.5 incidents requiring time off work and workers' comp for every 100 workers, matching the rate in 2015 and 2016.

"While that is a very positive sign that overall the number of lost-time incidents is going down, it still means that there are remaining challenges to get that rate even lower," Dennis Hogan, CEO of Workplace N.L., told CBC News on Friday.

Aging workforce, loud industries

And while there is plenty of good news in the report — falls, eye injuries and back injuries all dropped to all-time lows last year — for the fourth straight year, hearing loss injuries climbed, hitting 10.6 per 10,000 workers, up from 9.5 in 2016.

Hogan says there are a few reasons for that: an aging population, loud industries like construction and fish processing, and the fact that hearing loss accumulates, which means that it can be years or decades before new protections are reflected in the injury rate.

Dennis Hogan, WorkplaceNL CEO, says hearing safety improvements made today will bring the injury rate down in the future, as hearing loss can accumulate over time. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"Things are quite different in most workplaces today than they would have been 20 or 30 or even more years ago, in which the same safeguards were not necessarily in place in the work site," said Hogan.

"When you look at certain sectors, primarily in fish harvesting, fish processing and other forms of processing, and the construction injury, high levels of noise is quite common in those sectors. And people who work in those industries for many years, over a period of decades, their symptoms often don't materialize until later in life, and we're starting to see that happen now."

Not only that, said Hogan, but people today are more likely to claim workers comp for hearing loss, instead of just chalking it up to the wear and tear of getting older. Improved hearing protection today, he added, will improve the rate in the long term.