It's time to turn down the ear-splitting volume a bit in bars

The B.C. government has made some good strides when it comes to improving working conditions for restaurant and bar servers.

For one thing, employers can no longer force servers to wear high heels, making life easier for women who have to be on their feet for long periods of time.

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The government has also raised the wages of servers, with steps to further close the wage gap between them and other workers.

Now, more needs to be done to deal with hearing loss.

Hearing loss in the workplace can be just as damaging in the service industry as it is in heavy industrial settings, warns WorkSafeBC.

It has issued a safety bulletin alerting employers and workers to raise awareness of the risk - saying regular exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss to unprotected workers.

Studies have found pubs and nightclubs in B.C. regularly exceed that during a regular shift, said a WorkSafeBC press release.

“Noise is a serious and widespread problem in many workplaces, and this includes the service industry,” said Dan Strand, director of prevention services. “Our research has found that most service sector workers and employers are not aware of the risk of hearing loss in their industry.”

Although wearing hearing protection is key to service industry workers, WorkSafeBC points out “bartenders, servers and other workers are often reluctant to use hearing protection because they believe it will make it difficult to communicate with customers. In fact, this is not the case.”

“Studies show that when noise levels reach 90 decibels or higher, hearing protection actually improves your ability to hear speech,” said Strand. “We need to change how we think about hearing protection in the service industry.”

WorkSafeBC said bartenders, servers and other workers are often reluctant to use hearing protection because they believe it will make it difficult to communicate with customers. But the organization disputes that assumption, saying hearing protection devices usually allow workers to hear someone speaking to them better than if they didn’t have hearing protection.

“Studies show that when noise levels reach 90 decibels or higher, hearing protection actually improves your ability to hear speech,” said Strand. “We need to change how we think about hearing protection in the service industry.”

WorkSafeBC said if noise levels exceed 85 decibels in an eight-hour shift, then employers are required to have a noise control and hearing conservation program. The release said WorkSafeBC receives more than 2,000 hearing-loss claims annually where benefits are paid in the form of hearing aids and accessories.

The government needs to do more to ensure these programs are enforced. It should also look at possible rules restricting the noise level in these establishments. There will be pushback from the industry, of course, but like the ban on smoking, we feel that a slightly quieter workplace will eventually be accepted by customers – and appreciate by staff.

- With files from the Tri-City News

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