Say what? Rise predicted in N.S. hearing-loss claims

An audiologist predicts the number of work-related cases of hearing loss in Nova Scotia will continue to rise.

An audiologist predicts the number of work-related cases of hearing loss in Nova Scotia will continue to rise.

The Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia has received more than 5,000 claims for hearing loss over the past 10 years. During that time, the board paid out more than $40 million.

Last year alone, the board received around 680 of these claims — outnumbering any other non-sudden workplace injury. The bill for hearing aids and batteries was nearly $3 million.

The law requires that companies in Nova Scotia provide employees with hearing protection if the sound level in their workplace is consistently above 85 decibels for eight hours a day.

Unlike in some provinces, however, employers are not required to monitor whether that protection is effective, or to follow up with annual hearing tests and education programs.

Michael Sharpe, an industrial audiologist in Dartmouth, said he expects the compensation board will receive more hearing-loss claims as baby boomers retire — even if the province enacts tougher legislation now.

Industries with the highest number of hearing-loss claims over the past 10 years:

  • Manufacturing
  • Mining
  • Wholesale trade
  • Construction

Source: Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia

But implementing testing and education programs could help in the future, Sharpe said. He pointed to British Columbia, which has had such rules in place for decades and has seen its cost per claim drop.

"In my opinion, it's the annual hearing tests and the constant education that the employees have received on how to wear hearing protection and why they need to wear hearing protection that's played a major role in the reduction of damage," Sharpe told CBC News.

Prince Edward Island recently adopted a similar strategy, while Newfoundland and Labrador has draft legislation.

Chrissy Matheson, spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Workforce Development, said a discussion about changing occupational health regulations was held in the 1990s, but there are no plans to revisit the issue now.

It's up to employers to ensure that their workers are not overexposed to noise, Matheson said.

To Sam Pardy, a little prevention goes a long way. He now has two hearing aids after working more than 40 years as a seaman, most recently on noisy tugboats in the Halifax harbour.

Ear protection can cost $34, Pardy said, which is considerably cheaper than what the workers' compensation board paid for his hearing aids.

"Which would you rather do — spend $34 or fork out $2,800? I think that if I had a chance to get them way back when, it would've been better to spend $34."