Hearing loss and workplace safety
by Michael Cutlack
by Michael Cutlack
According to the Department of Health and Aged Care, about 3.6 million Australians have some level of hearing loss. More than 1.3 million people live with a hearing condition that could have been prevented. More than 1 in 3 Australians have noise-related ear damage. The number of people in Australia with a hearing impairment is expected to double to an estimated 7.8 million people in 2060.
Hearing loss is described as a decreased ability to hear or understand speech and sounds around you. It can be caused by a variety of factors. Age and exposure to loud noises are two of the most common causes.
Some common signs of hearing loss according to Hearing Australia include:
Occupational hearing loss
Hazardous noise can impact our ability to hear and make it difficult to hear sounds that are necessary for a safe work environment, such as emergency procedure instructions and warning signals. Hazardous noise means noise that exceeds the exposure standard for noise in the workplace (Safe Work Australia).
Managing the risks associated with hazardous noise will assist in:
An employee can be awarded compensation for hearing loss in the workplace which can be very costly to the employer.
Safe Work Australia states that 69,481 workers’ compensation claims for noise-induced hearing loss were accepted between 2000-01 and 2014-15. The majority of these cases arose due to long-term exposure to sounds, while the remainder was due to exposure to a single, sudden sound.
Sound stimulates tiny hair cells in your inner ear, which send messages to your brain. Hazardous noise can damage these delicate cells. Once damaged these cells cannot be replaced.
Hearing loss may be temporary and after a period of time away from the noise, hearing may be restored. However, if there is further exposure to hazardous noise, the ear will gradually lose its ability to recover and the hearing loss will become permanent.
Permanent hearing loss can also occur suddenly if a person is exposed to very loud impact or explosive sounds. Hazardous noise may also result in a worker experiencing tinnitus, which could become permanent.
The degree of hearing loss that occurs is dependent on how loud the noise is, how long someone is exposed to it and, to some extent, individual susceptibility.
According to Safe Work Australia, noise can be measured in two ways:
Hazardous noise is any noise that exceeds these standard limits and can result in hearing loss which may be immediate or gradual depending on the type of exposure.
Safe Work Australia states there are some things you must do to reduce the risk of noise-related injury, including:
A preliminary baseline hearing screen can help identify individuals who are at a greater risk of further hearing loss and help them access further services if required. Early intervention is important to help maintain a safe work environment.
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