Shining the Spotlight on Hearing Awareness Week (1 – 7 March)

It’s well- known that there are risk factors within certain industries. 

Writers are at risk of arthritis and carpal tunnel, professional singers are prone to vocal cord nodules, not to mention the mortal dangers that police and defence forces face daily.

Tradies and other people who work around loud machinery are at a high risk of hearing loss due to the damage caused by ongoing high decibels or singularly loud noises. 

Since 1- 7 March is Hearing Awareness week, we will be shining a light on some of the risks that tradies face daily regarding their hearing. 

What is NIHL?

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is an irreversible condition that usually affects workers in the manufacturing and construction industries. Those with jobs as drivers, machinery operators, and labourers are most likely to be exposed to injury-causing noise. 

More than 30% of the Australian workforce is likely to work in an environment that causes hearing loss and tinnitus.

NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is entirely preventable.

Types and Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Hearing related injuries aren’t just limited to hearing loss. 

Tinnitus– characterised by ringing in the ears- is another injury that comes from damage caused by loud environments. 

Exposure to loud noise over time can cause a constant or intermittent ringing, buzzing, or humming in the ears that can be extremely disruptive to your life. People with tinnitus often report feelings of depression, isolation, and distress. 

The inner ear has tiny hair-like cells that are stimulated by sound, and send messages to your brain. Excessive and continuous noise damages those delicate cells, causing irreversible hearing loss. 

The hearing will continue to deteriorate as noise exposure continues.

Some chemicals can result in hearing loss, known as ototoxic substances. Exposure to certain solvents and asphyxiants can cause hearing loss, and exposure to both ototoxic chemicals and loud noises can exacerbate this risk.

How Can NIHL Be Prevented?

As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your employees, including taking as many necessary measures as possible to ensure your staff’s hearing health. Under the model WHS Regulations, you need to take the following steps to reduce hearing hazards:

  • Try to reduce the amount of time that staff need to be near noisy machines, especially if there is no way to reduce the decibels themselves.
  • Provide regular hearing checks for your employees.
  • Be aware of which noises produce sounds that are at dangerous levels. Higher than 85 dBA for long periods can cause hearing loss or tinnitus.
  • Provide hearing PPE, such as earplugs, earmuffs, ear canal caps or semi inserts earmuffs. This is the last defence against NIHL as it relies on staff compliance and supervision to ensure that this PPE is being worn consistently and correctly.
  • Consider signage reminding employees to wear hearing PPE when near loud machinery.

As mentioned above, it is vital to ensure that you’re aware of noise levels that can produce dangerous decibels.  

The hazards may not always be obvious. A worker who spends a lot of time in an environment where the noise may not seem as loud as other areas is in just as much danger of losing their hearing as someone who is around obviously loud machinery. 

An easy test is a one-metre rule. If you need to raise your voice to speak to someone who is a metre away from you, the noise level in that area is likely hazardous to hearing. Doing this regularly will allow you to monitor and ensure that you’re providing the best possible environment for your staff members’ ears. 

It is also advisable to spend some time walking around and listening for sounds that could be raising the decibels within the area, e.g. a loose panel on machinery causing a loud rattle. Ensuring that repairs are carried out as timeously as possible will go a long way to ensuring your employees’ hearing health. 

Big Bangs and How They Hurt You

We’ve spoken at length about long term exposure to loud sounds and the damage it causes over time, but what about sudden, loud sounds?

This is just as- if not more- dangerous as long term, consistent loud noise. 

A sudden, thunderous noise can damage the ears so severely that the injured person can become entirely deaf from one event. It can also cause tinnitus, as discussed above. 

What Can You Do as an Employer to Protect Your Staff Members’ Hearing? 

There are several measures that you can put in place.

  1. Where possible, consider substituting hammering and riveting to glueing and welding. Ensure that your workers are lowering heavy things rather than dropping them loudly. 
  2. Reduce exposure as much as possible. Rotate tasks, provide a quiet rest area, and limit the time spent in a particularly noisy area. 
  3. When purchasing equipment and machinery, ask the supplier/ manufacturer about noise levels. Ensuring that this equipment is maintained correctly can also result in lower noise levels. 

While it will never be possible to maintain a silent workshop or plant, it is possible to take steps to ensure that your employees’ hearing health is looked after.

Are you looking for more guidance to put procedures into place to keep your staff safe? Contact us today for a consultation, or click here to view our manuals.

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