Industrial Deafness growing issue in Australia
Hearing loss is seen by many Australians as something that happens with age or from exposure to extreme volumes such as live concerts, gunshots or a jet taking off. What a lot of people don’t think about is the damage that can be caused by common, everyday loud noises like traffic or loud sounds in the workplace.
Hearing loss is the second most common health condition experienced by Australians, more common than heart disease, diabetes or asthma. About one in six people experience some form of hearing loss, and experts believe that most cases were preventable and resulted from repeated exposure.
What is Industrial Deafness?
Industrial deafness describes hearing loss caused by noise in the workplace. It accounts for about 10 per cent of onset hearing loss in adults. Since noisy workplaces are common in many Australian industries because of tools and machinery, the damage it causes can happen gradually and go unnoticed until it’s too late.
Employers are obligated to protect their workers from excessive noise exposure under Federal Government Occupational Health and Safety regulations. It’s important to recognise whether noises in your workplace pose a risk to your hearing and whether there are steps in place to reduce or eliminate this risk.
Loud sound doesn’t have to be physically painful or unpleasant to cause hearing damage. If you have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing less than a metre away, then you are in an environment that could be causing permanent damage. Like sun exposure, the damage to hearing from noise accumulates over time. The longer the exposure and the higher the sound level, the more damage that is likely to occur.
Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Repeated or lengthy exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB can cause hearing problems over time. That is roughly the level of sound an idle heavy motor truck makes. Sounds below 75 dB are considered safe. You should consider protection if you’re exposed to sounds between 75 and 90 dB for an extended period (4 to 8 hours). Sounds above 90 dB should be avoided for longer than 30 minutes and sounds above 120 dB should be avoided altogether.
An example in the workplace is an electric drill, which makes a sound at 94 dB and will cause permanent damage if you are exposed to it for longer than an hour. A jackhammer has a sound level of 110 dB and can cause permanent damage after 2 minutes without protection.
Symptoms of Industrial Deafness
Signs and symptoms of hearing problems caused by workplace noises include:
- Speech and other sounds seeming muffled
- Difficulty hearing other people in conversation, especially consonants
- Difficulty following group conversations, especially in a louder environment
- Difficulty understanding people on the phone
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves or speak more slowly
- Needing to turn up the volume on your television, radio or other devices
- Constant ringing, buzzing, roaring or hissing noises
- Poorer hearing in one ear
Can You Make a Claim?
If you work in a prescribed workplace, it is compulsory for employers to arrange a baseline hearing test within 12 months of your employment commencing. A prescribed workplace exists where workers are exposed to 90 dB or above during a typical eight hour day.
A baseline hearing test is conducted by an approved WorkCover WA tester to establish an initial reference for your overall Percentage Loss of Hearing (PLH). Subsequent tests will be compared with it to measure any hearing loss caused. If you have lost at least ten per cent of your hearing compared with the baseline PLH, you may be eligible for compensation. A full audiological assessment and examination by a specialist will then be arranged to determine the exact nature and extent of hearing loss.