Hearing loss increase found in oil, gas workers

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) among Canadian oil and gas drilling sector workers has increased by 12 per cent, from 33 per cent in 2012 to 45 per cent in 2017, according to hearing-test data collected by employers. Even more alarming: out of the 294 oil and gas drilling workers with NIHL, 194 — 65 per cent — were under the age of 35.

WorkSafeBC, a workplace safety and health agency in British Columbia, is alerting employers to the problem with a new safety bulletin.

While the percentage of workers with NIHL has increased in the drilling sector, the percentage of workers who reported wearing a hearing protection device has also increased, from 94 to 98 per cent, with a heavy reliance on A plugs, commonly known as foam earplugs.

“There are a number of reasons why workers may be diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss even though they are wearing some form of hearing protection,” says Sasha Brown, WorkSafeBC occupational audiologist. “The earplugs or earmuffs might be the wrong size, inserted or worn incorrectly, not worn for long enough, or they may not be providing enough protection for the duration and intensity of noise exposure.”

Employers can take measures to prevent noise-induced hearing loss: 

  • Ensure all workers who are at risk are wearing sufficient hearing protection that fits, and that they understand how to properly wear it.
  • Make sure workers insert or wear the correct hearing protection prior to entering a noisy environment and wear it until after exiting the noisy location.
  • Rotate workers to different positions so they spend less time in noisy environments.
  • Identify potential engineering controls to mitigate risk of exposure.
  • Ensure workers have their hearing tested and are aware of their hearing-test results.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and Guidelines, employers are required to provide hearing-loss prevention programs, monitor noise levels and conduct annual hearing tests for workers exposed to hazardous noise levels to prevent permanent hearing damage.

Hazardous noise levels are defined as 85 decibels in the A scale for eight hours or the equivalent; the A scale is used for measuring environmental noise. All workers are responsible for wearing appropriate hearing protection and taking part in their employer’s hearing-loss prevention program. Since 2006 there have been more than 41,000 accepted claims for NIHL in B.C.

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Using TaBRA For Culture Change

TaBRA (Task Based Risk Assessments) is a topic about which FDRsafety has written several times.

How It Works

Many workers don’t take proper steps during tasks. In our experience, our methodology leaves workers shaking their heads at the number of steps that they forget to identify on a regular basis. System accomplishes this through two phases:

Place workers in the lead roles and have them identify all the steps to a task:

  • Before identifying hazards and risks, workers step through each element of the task, allowing them to get into the “cadence” of how the work is performed. They relax because they are the only one who knows how the task is performed.
  • Missing steps could result in missing things that create hazard and risk as well as impact operational performance
  • If an Alternative Method to LOTO is required, the operator steps are already defined with TaBRA

       After they identify all the steps in the task, they:

  • Identify the hazards and risks,
  • Validate that the proposed risk reduction method(s) actually work in their real world, and
  • Provide final validation of the final Alternative Method or SOP works. Remember, it is the worker who will train other new workers. The final procedure should be what they need.

Why It Works

The entire FDR TaBRA process is built around “respect for the worker.” When that happens, the worker knows it and “buy-in” is relatively easy. The team approach and outcome of the TaBRA System is not something that the worker “has to do.” Results have proven that moving workers from “Have to” to “Want to” is a proven formula for changing behavior. The dilemma that management and workers face are the tasks where existing safety policies and procedures make the worker “fight the system” to accomplish their work.

An Example

An FDR safety team just finished a risk assessment where the highest element of risk for the defined task was getting to the local disconnect for LOTO. That was an eye-opener for the client who had been “putting up” with this hazard for two decades because the focus on LOTO overshadowed the issues of what it takes to actually lockout the equipment. TaBRA brings to life the adage “ the devil is in the detail”

Final Thoughts

If you want culture change, you must align worker and leader behavior for both safety and production. If you want to change behavior, you must first change attitudes. If you don’t get to the worker’s heart and mind, you will keep fighting the same battles over and over. If you want a change in attitude, you need to assure that your safety policies and procedures facilitate workers, management and union personnel dealing with real world issues to achieve both acceptable risk and compliance with OSHA.

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Whistleblower case shows what safety discipline shouldn’t be like

Was worker fired for reporting injuries?

We’ve discussed before that progressive discipline is hard for any manager, no matter what department he or she is in. But safety pros face unique challenges with discipline. Discipline is necessary at times but be careful your actions don’t run afoul of OSHA’s anti-retaliation rules. Here’s a recent case that shows what you shouldn’t do:

Disciplinary policy backfires

Timothy Jacobs was the lead machine operator for Dura-Fibre, a manufacturer in Wisconsin. The company used a progressive disciplinary policy where employees were automatically terminated after accumulating 24 points. The company’s policy was strict and maybe even draconian. On May 20, 2013, a co-worker told Jacobs he “tweaked” his shoulder, but he felt like it was “OK.” The next day, the co-worker told Jacobs the shoulder was sore. Jacobs reported the injury to the safety manager. The manager, upset the injury was reported a day late, assessed him eight disciplinary points. Later that same day, Jacobs twisted his ankle while walking down a staircase, and he promptly reported the injury to the safety manager. A twisted ankle happens, right? Seems like just a bad luck accident. That’s not how the safety manager saw it. He summoned Jacobs into his office the next day, said the worker had committed an “unsafe act,” and assessed four more points on his disciplinary record. Summary: Jacobs racked up 12 points in two days, which put him at the 24 disciplinary point total. The safety manager fired him because he reached the 24-point mark.

Careful with that punishment

Jacobs filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, arguing his employer retaliated against him for reporting workplace injuries. The court agreed, and now the company must pay Jacobs $100,000 to settle the complaint. The company’s disciplinary policy was a Catch-22: Either report the injury and possibly face punishment for an unsafe act – or hide the injury and face discipline for not timely reporting it to a supervisor. Like we said, this is a drastic disciplinary program, and we doubt yours is as black-and-white. Discipline should be applied consistently for the breaking of safety rules – whether a worker was injured by an unsafe act or not. Also, remember to document the disciplinary process thoroughly to prove action wasn’t retaliatory. To find out the latest on what OSHA is up to as well as implementing a viable safety culture, click here now.

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OSHA Clarifies Drug Testing, Incentives


Agency Says Post-Incident Drug Testing, Safety Incentives OK

Good news: OSHA is pulling back its previous stance on safety incentive programs and post-incident drug testing – the guidance that left many safety pros confused. OSHA issued anti-retaliation guidance in 2016 that gave examples of safety incentives and post-accident drug testing as unlawful retaliation. The agency’s stance was safety incentive programs that rewarded employees for time periods without injuries, and blanket post-incident drug testing, could discourage workers from reporting injuries.

Memo reverses OSHA’s stance

A newly released OSHA memo intends to “clarify … that (the agency) does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing.” Post-incident drug testing and safety incentive programs will only be considered retaliatory when they seek to penalize a worker for reporting a work-related illness or injury. Bottom line: If you follow a few basic guidelines set by OSHA, you can still have incentive programs and post-incident drug testing without fear of facing OSHA citations.

Remember the small print

OSHA says, “most instances of workplace drug testing are permissible.” That includes testing to evaluate the root cause of workplace safety incidents. The caveat: Testing must be conducted consistently on any worker whose conduct may have caused the accident, not just the worker who was injured in the accident. OSHA now also permits safety incentive programs that offer a prize or bonus at the end of an injury-free month or time period. However, employers must use “adequate precautions” to ensure workers feel free to report injuries. Precautions include adding features to a program like rewards for workers who identify unsafe conditions, training that emphasizes anti-retaliation policies and evaluating workers’ willingness to report injuries.

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Next HAZWOPER TRAIN-THE-TRAINER Course in 2019 Aboard the Battleship USS North Carolina


We just finished a great class last week here in Wilmington for our HAZWOPER TRAIN-THE-TRAINER Course – and it was the last one for the year.  Excellent students, great participation and an eagerness to learn created the perfect environment for learning.

Anyone involved in environmental clean-up or HAZMAT emergency response will benefit from this intensive, week-long Train-the-Trainer Course held on the Battleship USS North Carolina; the next scheduled class is on April 1-5, 2019.  Stay in Wilmington that weekend for our 72nd North Carolina Azalea Festival.

In addition to covering the various elements of the HAZWOPER standard, you will experience hands-on, practical simulations to meet the experiential requirements of the regulation. Click here to register for the first of these courses held in 2019.

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LSP Update

Great News! Our LSP just received a facelift and now has migrated to our new Learning Management System. What does this mean?

  • Up-to-the-minute changes in OSHA regulations and safety trends
  • Interactive modules make learning exciting, challenging and fun
  • New, dynamic videos and rich, engaging graphics
  • Ease-of-use and excellent for recordkeeping requirements

All of the benefits of becoming an LSP have not changed. Not familiar with the LSP professional designation? Our LSP provides the following:

  • 18 different Specialist modules for a comprehensive overview of the profession
  • Continuing Education Units that may be transferred to Academic Credits (up to one year) at Columbia Southern University
  • Professional designation recognized worldwide
  • Ability to train as an Independent NASP Trainer for increased income

As a bonus, we are offering a 10% OFF coupon for purchasing the LSP in our new LMS format now. That’s almost $600 in savings!  Click here now and type in LSPLMS18 in the coupon code for this savings.

If you are not familiar with how a Learning Management System works, click here to sign up for our FREE demo.

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How Can Businesses Eliminate Worker Injuries to Reach a Goal of Zero Incidents?





The Zero Incidents Vision

Over the years, businesses have implemented many unique procedures and policies to eliminate worker injuries and workplace incidents. Today, Health & Safety professionals are promoting Zero Incidents as the benchmark for safety management excellence.

A Zero Incidents goal aims to eliminate all events that result in injury, property damage, and have the secondary consequences of:

  • Damaging your brand.
  • Prompting legal action.
  • Halting production.

This Zero Incident philosophy is somewhat polarizing, with some safety professionals who perceive Zero Incidents as the new standard and others who say it is an unrealistic goal. Regardless of whether you’re aiming to reduce your reportable incidents to zero or just reduce your overall incident count, this article will outline some of the fundamental processes that need to be in place to achieve your health and safety goal.

The Journey to Zero Incidents Requires Training

The most proactive way to achieve Zero Incidents is to train your workers—there is a measurable relationship between the amount of pre-emptive training you deliver to employees and the rate of workplace incidences. It’s no secret that staff given proper training about a process and its safety measures are significantly less likely to experience an incident or injury.

However, it’s not enough to simply give good training to your team; these efforts are only effective when you closely monitor employee training performance with the aim to continuously improve the safety record of your organization. Zero Incidents as a target creates the necessity for efforts to establish better management and procedures for training. Being able to create more effective training programs to combat common incidents for your workplace means having an understanding (and way of measuring) both your leading and lagging indicators.

Leading indicators are the measurable factors that contribute to the root cause of an event and can help predict where and when an event is likely to happen – for example, was the employee trained in safe operating procedures, and what safety audits did you do before beginning work? Lagging indicators are the measurable details of an incident that can be observed after the fact, including the type of injury or number of hours of process shut down.  Businesses can use lagging indicators to create a baseline to assess management training practices to make improvements. On the other hand, leading indicators focus on future health and safety outcomes with the goal of improving overall safety and reducing injury. Health and safety managers use leading indicators to create new procedures and monitor compliance and lagging indicators to adjust activities and training to avoid injury and reach the goal of lower incidents.

Being able to measure and compare leading and lagging indicators is essential for building a better training program and getting on track to reach a Zero Incidents goal. Some indicators you should monitor include:

  • Employees taking training compared against employees involved in incidents.
  • Rate of refresher courses versus rate of incidents (per process type).
  • Employee wellness programs(for example, ERA provides our staff with an employee gym for physical health and ergonomic sit/stand desks).
  • Frequency of safety audits against near misses.

It is important that businesses aim for proper training and fewer incidents without pressuring workers to under report minor injuries. In aiming for fewer incidents, one should also create a workplace culture that is open to (and potentially rewards) reporting from employees rather than an atmosphere of fear and silence. Incentives for training, such as bonuses for employees who participate in safety programs, can promote a no-incident culture by promoting workers who prioritize safety. OSHA’s VPP Guidance materials suggest several positive incentives offering modest rewards for successful company-wide safety and health training. Zero Incidents serves as an opportunity for businesses and employees to learn how to achieve the highest results in workplace safety.

Benefits of Risk Assessments and Root Cause Analysis for Employers

A risk assessment involves the process of evaluating risks to workers’ health and safety from workplace hazards. Risk assessment plans collect vitally important information which can be used to create a no-incidents culture for workers. A proper risk assessment methodology aims to identify:

  1. Hazards that have the potential to harm any person at a facility.  This process, known as hazard identification, consists of recording actual physical hazards that can take any number of forms – from fall hazards, to proximity to dangerous machinery, to injuries from carrying heavy objects, etc.
  2. The actual level of risk posed to staff and site visitors by any identified hazard, a process commonly referred to as risk analysis.
  3. Risk evaluation levels or ascertaining the significance of the risk in a broader context.  

Health and Safety managers should combine a risk assessment with a root cause analysis to eliminate workplace hazards and achieve low incidents. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a “root cause” as “a fundamental, underlying, system-related reason why an incident occurred, that identifies one or more correctable system failures.” OSHA explains that “by conducting a root cause analysis and addressing root causes, an employer may be able to substantially or completely prevent the same or a similar incident from recurring.”  Employers conducting a root cause analysis seek to discover the underlying and systemic causes of an incident that will help prevent similar events from happening again rather than simply correcting the problem itself. In taking actions to identify and correct underlying system management shortfalls, employers can avoid unnecessary fines and litigation.

Interviews, checklists, event trees, and other tools assist employers in identifying root causes for incidents ranging in complexity. A root cause analysis combined with a risk assessment creates a clear, guided course to the goal of less incidents. Employers benefit from reduced failures and prevented incidents resulting in improved process reliability, increased revenues, decreased production costs, lower maintenance costs, and lower insurance premiums.


The most successful improvements in health and safety are based on training and measurements of risk assessments and root causes. Risk assessments and root cause analyses serve to provide “early warnings” about potential hazards to avoid incidents. Once issues in your process are uncovered, training staff on the new procedure is the best way to zero incidents. Zero workplace incidents can be achieved once companies invest time and resources in the right processes.

The aim for zero represents perfection, however employees cannot operate perfectly all the time. Zero is rather a target for employers to demonstrate commitment to reducing workplace incidents to achieve safety for everyone. Employers work alongside employees to reach safety goals; however, employers send the message through company health and safety goals to communicate that incidents are not acceptable. Rather than a numerical goal of zero, Zero Incidents allow companies to show their underlying philosophy—that safety must be emphasized and that human life and injury is of the highest priority.

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