DennisBeaverJuly 21, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver 

The Firestone Grill family of restaurants in Cambria, San Luis Obispo, Fresno and Bakersfield has been voted by customers as having hands-down the best BBQ, tri-tip, burgers, fries, onion rings and salads found anywhere on the planet and we agree. The food is amazing, portions large, prices reasonable and management even tosses in “a little something extra” for employees which can last a lifetime.

It is that “little something extra” which led to the following email:

“After my first day at work, returning home, my ears were ringing and it was difficult to understand speech for several hours. Most of my co-workers describe the same things, and none of us have had any type of a hearing problem before working here.

“To say that the restaurant is noisy is an understatement. It has an open-kitchen, less than 10 feet from where cashiers take orders. The noise level is so loud, that to be heard, we have to yell at each other When placing orders, customers are constantly asking us to speak louder as they can’t hear us over the background noise, and we often have trouble hearing them.

“My father reads your column in the Hanford Sentinel and suggested I ask for your recommendations. I love the job but something tells me this is not a safe working environment. What do you recommend? Thanks, “Charlie.”

We visit the Bakersfield Firestone Grill

If you read the many positive reviews for the Firestone Grill, “Popular but very noisy” pops up. That’s no exaggeration. Several YouTube videos give an accurate picture of the extreme levels of noise.

We recently took eight visiting law students from France and Sweden to the Bakersfield branch for lunch. Upon opening the door, it felt as if we were in a subway station, the noise was deafening, and I got a look from them that meant, “Beaver, where have you brought us?”

Over lunch, attempting to have a normal conversation with people seated across the table was pointless.

Using a calibrated, Extech Sound Level Meter, I measured 85 decibels at the counter where orders are placed. That’s like standing two feet from a loud vacuum cleaner, a food blender or 40 feet from a moving freight train. 83dB were measured as far from the kitchen area as it was possible to get.

“At 85 dB over an 8 hour shift some type of hearing protection can be required by Cal OSHA,” Long Beach-based workers compensation attorney Tom Nantais commented.

Specializing in occupationally caused hearing loss, he added, “With ears ringing after each day’s work, Charlie has already given you evidence that her hearing may have been damaged. As she is asking for a recommendation, mine would be to get out of there!

”What do ringing ears mean?

We asked Nantais to explain the significance of Charlie complaining about her ears ringing, then having trouble hearing and understanding speech

“When exposed to noise, the ear’s sensitivity level will decrease as a means of protection and only sounds louder than a certain level will be heard. This is called a temporary threshold shift. Usually the next day normal hearing returns, but over time the loss becomes permanent. So what happens temporarily at early exposure to occupational noise, over time, working in such loud environments as you measured, significant and permanent hearing loss results.”

Special problems concerning restaurants

While federal and state noise regulations in most industries are routinely enforced, Nantais finds that bars and restaurants are in a unique position:

“Pick the industry and OSHA can come in and require a hearing loss prevention program, but in the case of food service it is not practical. You can’t do the job and wear hearing protection at the same time. So, restaurant owners who care about their employees need to find ways of lowering the din – initially, with proper design or afterwards, with things like carpet, wall and ceiling echo-reducing treatments. “

These things also make good business sense as restaurant reviews now rate the level of noise.

“There is no excuse for intentionally exposing your employees to damaging levels of sound,” Nantais strongly maintains, and believes that, “Charlie and any employee working in similar, noisy environments needs to discover if their hearing has been damaged.”

How do you find out? “Health insurance will cover a hearing evaluation test. No health insurance? Then go to Costco. As they sell hearing aids, you’ll have no problem obtaining a free hearing test with a print out of the results.”

If any of the issues in today’s story ring a bell—even if it has been years since you worked in a noisy environment–then by all means a visit to is well worth your time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.