Hearing Awareness Week: What you need to know about workplace hearing loss
Unaddressed hearing loss costs $750 billion worldwide each year and causes lost productivity, cognitive decline, depression, and barriers to education and social integration.
Hearing loss has also been shown to significantly increase the risk of dementia by adding to the cognitive load of the brain or accelerating atrophy.
With 22 per cent of Australians aged 15 and over having a hearing impairment, it’s not an issue to be taken lightly.
Hearing Awareness Week, on 3–9 March 2019, seeks to respond to the impacts of hearing loss by raising community awareness, as well as educating people on protecting their hearing from damage due to noise.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a summary of the information you need to help prevent hearing loss in the workplace.
Hearing loss at work:
Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace, which includes controlling hazardous noise and other factors increasing the risk of hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is completely preventable with the right controls, so there is no excuse for people to experience it in the workplace.
Despite this, as many as 75 per cent of construction workers develop permanent hearing loss or tinnitus due to exposure to hazardous noise.
Training and education of workers is critical for prevention and diagnosis, particularly as hearing loss increases an aversion to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) due to associated communication issues.
Hearing loss prevention plan:
However, training should also be part of a larger hearing loss prevention plan that includes a risk assessment and controls implementation.
This should start with a workplace noise assessment to identify who is being exposed to hazardous noise and their personal exposure levels, as well as how to manage that exposure with engineering, administrative and PPE controls.
Attention should be paid to moderate levels of ‘stealth’ noise, which can lead to hearing loss over the long-term, especially as many workers are not appropriately protected due to a lack of awareness of the danger.
Communication methods should also be considered as both the noise itself and PPE can impair verbal communication, making an alternative method such as hand signals necessary.
Although noise is the most obvious danger to hearing in the workplace, many common chemicals can cause hearing loss if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin and this should also be addressed in a hearing loss prevention plan.
While higher level controls are more effective, PPE provides an important last line of defence against workplace hearing loss.
Hearing protection PPE includes ear muffs and ear plugs. Understanding the ‘Safe Noise Threshold’, as well as PPE standards, testing and ratings is critical in choosing the right hearing protection PPE for a task, particularly as the highest level of protection available is not always the best fit for the job.
Regardless of the choice, the proper maintenance, fit and removal are key for all PPE as poor practices in these areas can reduce the effectiveness or lead to ear infections.
Comfort and fit, particularly when used in conjunction with other PPE such as hard hats, should also be taken into consideration.