Helping service industry workers hear for good

Service industry workers exposed to loud noise can wear hearing protection that makes it easier to hear customers and coworkers — and looks good, too. 

Photo showing high-fidelity hearing protection in ear of a bartender facing a customer

A bartender wears the high-fidelity hearing protection
described in this story. Photo credit: © WorkSafeBC
(Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C.), used with

Bartenders, DJs, servers, door people, and other service industry workers are often exposed to hazardous levels of noise at or over 85 decibels. This puts them at risk of permanent hearing loss.

Unfortunately, many of these workers are not aware of that hazard. That’s why WorkSafeBC is raising awareness about the importance of hearing protection in this industry.

“We’re trying to change how the industry perceives hearing protection and noise. It needs to know that hearing damage is permanent,” says Lorne Scarlett, an industry specialist for Tourism and Hospitality at WorkSafeBC.

Listening to industry’s perceptions about hearing protection

A WorkSafeBC team, which included Lorne and audiologist Sasha Brown from the Risk Analysis Unit, surveyed employers and workers to learn more about their understanding of hearing loss prevention. They found there was a general lack of awareness of the risks associated with overexposure to noise, as well as the requirements for employers to have a hearing conservation program.

They also tested nightclub workers during a typical work shift, which included being exposed to live music from 9 p.m. to midnight and a DJ from midnight to 3 a.m. The results showed that workers were overexposed to noise.

But the workers didn’t seem to like the idea of wearing hearing protection. They thought that they wouldn’t be able to hear their customers, and that hearing protection looked bad, aesthetically.

Hearing protection that works well — and looks good

With these concerns in mind, Lorne and Sasha researched the marketplace for options. They found high-fidelity hearing protection that filtered sound, allowing the workers to hear their customers in loud environments. Plus, the hi-fi protection looked really cool. They returned to the nightclub and had the workers from the first round of testing try out the new hearing protection.

“The feedback was extremely positive,” says Lorne. “A lot of them were very surprised to see hearing protection that looks so good and works so well. They said they could hear their orders no problem, and they weren’t screaming at each other.”

The WorkSafeBC team continues to spread the word about this issue. In April, Sasha spoke at the B.C. Hospitality Summit about preventing noise-induced hearing loss in the service industry. WorkSafeBC also recently produced this safety bulletin, Protecting workers from noise in the service industry, along with a new video series I wrote about in my post Listen up for a new message about noise exposure.

For more information, see WorkSafeBC’s Hearing loss prevention page and this CTV news story featuring Dan Strand, WorkSafeBC director of Field Prevention Services.

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