A WSIB safety campaign was recently launched to prevent noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) by raising awareness and providing useful tools to identify and reduce risks. A permanent condition, typically caused by inner ear damage from long-term exposure to hazardous noise, NIHL accounted for almost one-quarter of allowed occupational disease claims (almost 30,000 Ontario workers) between 2006 and 2015. The Board’s interactive website www.toneitdown notes that it is rarely painful, often takes years of exposure to develop, so usually isn’t noticed until years down the road (over 51% of workers were 65 years or older when diagnosed with NIHL).
Needed: adequate assessment & benefits
While prevention is obviously ideal, Ontario hearing health care Professionals Fighting for Fairness for Workers (fair4workers.com) detail their concerns on significant compensation barriers facing those workers who have already developed noise induced hearing loss. In particular, they point to:
- Wrongful denial of claims & reduced benefits through incorrect measurement of hearing – “for reasons of economics or a lack of understanding”, the WSIB’s inappropriate use of bone conduction, rather than air conduction thresholds, minimizes the severity of the impairment when calculating eligibility for noise induced (sensorineural) hearing loss and non-economic loss benefit (NEL) claims
- Program cutbacks since 2004 – coverage has been stripped away over the past 8 years, culminating in the Jan. 9 2017 policy change which further caps the price limit of hearing aids (a 475% cut since 2004) and limits the products which clinicians can prescribe, meaning many technological improvements and even hearing aid styles will no longer be available to injured workers
The website includes letters for hearing health care professionals and workers & the general public outlining the issues.