Hearing Australia urges greater action on occupational noise-induced hearing loss
Published: 10/4/2023 3:55:32 AM
Farmer, builder, muso, miner, even teacher: these are among some of the noisiest jobs. Hearing Australia urges greater action on occupational noise-induced hearing loss
Construction workers, airport ground staff, farmers, F1 race car drivers, miners, musicians, Emergency Department staff – and even teachers – have some of the noisiest jobs. And if you’re a younger man with trade qualifications and live in rural or remote Australia, you could be at even greater risk of hazardous noise exposure1. Which is why this National Safe Work Month Hearing Australia is urging us all – regardless of our occupations – to be aware of occupational noise and the risks it can pose.
Occupational noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common yet preventable occupational diseases2, with an estimated more than 1.1 million Australians exposed to hazardous noise in their workplace1.
“National Safe Work Month is the perfect time to commit to building safe and healthy workplaces for all Australians,” says Hearing Australia Principal Audiologist, Karen Hirschausen. “This year’s National Safe Work Month theme is ‘For everyone’s safety, work safely’, which reinforces the importance for us as individuals and for Australian workplaces to take a preventative approach to hazardous noise exposure.”
In 2020-2021, 98 per cent of accepted workers’ compensation claims3 for deafness were attributed to long term noise exposure. “However, there’s likely many more workers who have noise-induced hearing loss, but they don’t realise it until it’s too late. On average, it takes 10 years4 for people to seek help,” says Karen. “Early detection can help prevent further damage. It’s crucial to identify occupational noise-induced hearing loss as soon as possible and then take steps to reduce your noise exposure and prevent it from worsening. Hearing loss can have devastating effects on a person’s wellbeing, contributing to mental health issues. It also has significant financial costs, with one study suggesting the total loss due to occupational noise-induced hearing loss was estimated to reach AUD$29.7 billion2.”
The majority of compensation claims for occupational noise-induced hearing loss come from males aged 55-59 years3, according to Safe Work Australia statistics.
Hearing Australia client Grant, who is in his mid-50s, spent years working in the construction industry, but prior to his recent visit to Hearing Australia, hadn’t had a hearing test since high school. “For some time, I’d been experiencing constant ringing in my ears, which was mainly noticeable at night when in a quiet room watching TV,” Grant says. “I went to see Hearing Australia for a hearing assessment, and they discovered some hearing loss. I tried some hearing aids and was amazed with the quality, clarity and the hearing improvement I experienced. The tinnitus also reduced and that really surprised me. I’d recommend all tradespeople have their hearing tested regularly.”
Rural, remote Australians at higher risk
According to the Making a Noise About Hearing report 20205 produced by NAL (National Acoustic Laboratories), Hearing Australia’s research division, those living in rural and regional Australia are more likely to have hearing problems compared with those living in cities, with occupational noise exposure one of the biggest contributors.
The NAL report also reveals that hearing loss among farmers and agricultural workers is widespread, with statistics indicating that 65 per cent of farmers aged between 15 and 75+ experience some degree of hearing loss. 5 “Compared to the general population, young farmers are around seven times more likely to have hearing loss than the general population of the same age,” says Karen. “Almost 50 per cent of farmers report tinnitus.”
To help raise awareness of occupational noise-induced hearing loss, Hearing Australia has released a suite of resources called ‘The Prevention Toolkit’. The Toolkit includes factsheets, posters, infographics, and social media content.
Kim Terrell, Hearing Australia’s Managing Director, says: “Hearing Australia is committed to helping workplaces prevent avoidable hearing loss caused by noise exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss is avoidable, and more needs to be done to protect workers in high-risk industries such as construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. No one should lose their hearing because of their job.”
10 top tips to protect your hearing on the job:
1. Purchase equipment which generates lower levels of noise emissions.
2. Always wear appropriate hearing protection such as earmuffs or earplugs – especially in noisy environments.
3. Ensure noise reduction aids, such as mufflers, which are used on equipment or tools, are in working order; and report any faults to your manager/employer.
4. Limit the time you spend in noisy environments and take regular breaks in quiet spaces.
5. Use barriers or screens to block the direct path of sound.
6. Use remote controls to operate noisy equipment from a distance.
7. Participate in training programs about hearing protection and workplace safety.
8. Familiarise yourself with safety guidelines and procedures.
9. Report any hearing-related issues or discomfort immediately to your supervisor, safety officer, or HR team.
10. Get your hearing checked regularly, and if you notice any changes, see your doctor or an audiologist.
Client statements are their own.
1. Lewkowski K, Heyworth JS, Li IW, Williams W, McCausland K, Gray C, Ytterstad E, Glass DC, Fuente A, Si S, Florath I. Exposure to noise and ototoxic chemicals in the Australian workforce. Occupational and environmental medicine. 2019 May 1;76(5):341-8.
2. Si S, Lewkowski K, Fritschi L, Heyworth J, Liew D, Li I. Productivity Burden of Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Australia: A Life Table Modelling Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jun 29;17(13):4667. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17134667. PMID: 32610505; PMCID: PMC7369732
3. Safe Work Australia 2022 'Australian workers’ compensation statistics 2020-2021
5. National Acoustic Laboratories. Making a noise about hearing: Factors to consider when developing hearing health awareness messages for Australians. Revised September 2020. https://www.nal.gov.au/making-a-noise-report/