An estimated one million Australian workers are exposed to excessive noise at their workplace. But hearing is delicate and loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Both conditions are preventable. To find out if your job puts your hearing in danger, and what you can do about it, continue reading.
Safeworks Australia states that “there were about 16 500 successful workers’ compensation claims involving permanent impairment due to noise” between 2002 and 2007. If you are exposed to loud noise at your job, too, you must have regular hearing tests and protect your hearing as best you can.
Labourers, tradespersons, intermediate production and transport workers are amongst the most affected group of people. If your audiologist diagnoses you with occupational hearing loss, you may be able to claim compensation yourself.
Our ears are made up of:
These three parts work together allowing us to hear.
Sound is funnelled down the ear canal by the pinna and hits the eardrum, causing the eardrum and 3 small bones to move. This then sets the fluid in the inner ear into motion, causing the hair cells to move. Sound is turned into electrical impulses and sent to the brain.
Loud noise can damage hearing by affecting the hair cells in the inner ear. When there is loud noise exposure these hair cells can die and a permanent hearing loss can occur. This is sensorineural hearing loss. This damage also results in tinnitus. Tinnitus occurs when people hear sound in the ears or the head when no sound is present.
The cochlear has these hair cells along its length (top to bottom) and each is programmed to a different pitch. Hair cells at the bottom of the cochlear are programmed to high pitch sounds (e.g. birds chirping). Hair cells at the top of the cochlear are programmed to low pitch sounds (e.g. bass guitar).
Noise related hearing loss initially affects the high pitches on a hearing test as these are at the bottom of the cochlear and the ones first damaged. It is important to have a hearing test to determine if you have this loss.
Occupational hearing loss is defined as a hearing deficiency caused by loud noise exposure or exposure to chemicals in the workplace. Loud noise can damage the fine hair cells in your inner ear. If these cells are damaged, they cannot be regenerated. Hearing impairments, in that case, are often permanent.
Occupational hearing loss also includes tinnitus. Tinnitus occurs when your brain no longer receives sound stimulation. Your brain compensates by creating its own internal noises, audible as ringing, buzzing, whooshing or clicking sounds. If you are experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, a hearing test can determine whether or not you have a noise-related hearing loss and tinnitus.
Occupational hearing loss and resulting tinnitus are completely preventable.
Protecting your hearing is a team effort. There are many things workplaces can and must do to prevent occupational hearing loss and protect you from noise exposure. Legislation currently exists in Australia to keep employees safe from both sudden loud noises and continuous loud sounds in the workplace.
Workplace regulations include:
People should not be exposed to any sudden loud noises louder than 140 decibels (dB). If they are their hearing can be harmed instantly
People should not be exposed to any continuous loud noises louder than 85dB over 8 hours. As the sound level increases the amount of time spent in the environment seen as safe halves.
Workers that are exposed to loud noise must have regular hearing tests. The frequency of hearing tests depends on the type of work and noise exposure, as well as their hearing health history.
Most workplaces conduct hearing screenings instead of hearing tests, as they are a quicker and simpler way to detect hearing loss.
If a hearing impairment is detected, you will have a more comprehensive assessment with an audiologist, that includes the following steps:
After your hearing test, a report will be sent to your employer. If the results of the hearing test suggest you need further medical intervention or hearing aids it will be reported on.
Prevention is far better than treatment. As mentioned before, this type of hearing loss is 100 per cent preventable and so regular hearing tests are needed. It should be the goal of workplaces to prevent occupational hearing loss.
The responsibility should not be shifted on to the employee. Workplaces can make sure their noise levels are safer and they can do this in a number of ways:
As an employee, you can do a few other things to ensure you are safe in the workplace. This includes:
Many working Australians are exposed to excessive noise in their workplace, making regular hearing tests important. Workplace regulations protect employees from unsafe noise levels. Despite this, some workers may still suffer from occupational hearing loss. It is vital that workers undergo regular hearing tests to monitor their hearing health.
Hearing is intricate and loud noise can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Both of which are entirely preventable. So don’t take your hearing for granted.
Schedule an appointment with an Attune Audiologist who can diagnose any hearing loss you may have. Book your appointment today to take charge of your hearing and improve your quality of life.