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Federal interpreters suffer ‘acoustic shock,’ other concussion-like symptoms

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Nearly one-quarter of the interpreters employed by Ottawa’s Translation Bureau have suffered health issues directly related to their jobs, including acoustic shock caused by sudden, loud sounds.

Seventeen of the bureau’s 72 permanent interpreters have filed a total of 28 complaints over the last three years, according to the federal institution.

It feels as though somebody took a hammer to both your ears at the same time.– Craig Pollocl, interpreter

According to the union representing the workers, the complaints involve concussion-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, fainting, disorientation and even hearing loss. In six cases, the employees required immediate medical attention.

“We hope that we have a solution within the next 18 to 24 months,” said Stéphan Déry, chief executive officer of the bureau, which falls under the umbrella of Public Services and Procurement Canada. “The health and safety of our interpreters is important to us and we’re working with them, with the union [and] with the international association.”

Déry said the government is asking clients to ensure their own systems are equipped with decibel-limiting technology to help prevent acoustic shock.

Translation Bureau CEO Stéphan Déry says the federal institution is taking steps to address the issue. (CBC)

Acoustic shock

Interpreters working for the bureau translate live conferences, parliamentary committees and debates in the House of Commons on a daily basis.

Déry confirmed many of the cases reported involved acoustic shock, which can occur after exposure to a single extremely loud sound or continual exposure to a sound at a lesser intensity.

Audiologist Nancy Lévesque said sufferers often complain of pain in their ears, sensitivity to sound and tinnitus — constant ringing in the ears.

“It happens often with people wearing headsets,” she said.

Long-term effects

Craig Pollock, who has worked as an interpreter for 19 years in both the private and public sectors, including at the Translation Bureau, has suffered numerous acoustic shocks.

“It feels as though somebody took a hammer to both your ears at the same time and hit them,” he said. “It just leaves you reeling … dizzy [and] nauseous.”

Interpreter Craig Pollock, who has worked for the Translation Bureau, says he felt dizzy and nauseous after suffering acoustic shocks while on the job. (CBC News)

Pollock said he suffers from tinnitus in his left ear and has diminished hearing in both ears.

“I won’t turn up my volume now in order to hear when the level of sound — and the quality of sound — aren’t good enough,” he said. “I will simply say, ‘I’m sorry, the interpreter can’t interpret because the sound quality isn’t there.'”

New system coming 

The federal government has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of a digital interpretation platform that better controls sound and protects the hearing of interpreters working remotely.

“The Translation Bureau has experienced a sharp increase in over-the-phone interpretation assignments … [and] the sound quality coming from various devices, such as conference phones and cellphones does not meet the [International Organization for Standardization] standards required for quality simultaneous interpretation and creates other challenges with respect to occupational health and safety for interpreters who deliver the service,” according to the tender notice.

The Translation Bureau plans to spend $450,000 over 2½​ years for the new system, which will include video interface and be simpler for remote clients to use.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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