Here’s why Tradies are so prone to hearing loss

August is Tradies National Health Month, a campaign run by The Australian Physiotherapy Association and Steel Blue to raise awareness of the health risks tradies face on the job. Here are my two cents:

Most people will find it easier to hear with hearing aids by the time they’re 60, but studies show tradespeople are affected by hearing loss more than a decade earlier than the rest of us.

Australian Workcover statistics for 2001/2 reveal the two occupation groups with the highest number of claims were labourers and tradespeople. Males made 94% of all claims for permanent hearing loss, and the highest number came from the 55-59 years age group.

Construction workers regularly experience noise levels up to six times the legal exposure limit and up to 75 percent are developing tinnitus or permanent hearing loss as a result of their job, an Australian study shows.

What puts Tradies at risk?

Overly loud occupational noise is a common culprit of accelerated hearing damage – lasting damage can result from one-off exposure to excessively loud noise or from exposure to moderately loud noise for an extended period of time. The effects are accumulative.

Power tools are frequently louder than 110 decibels so even if the duration is short, the damage can be permanent. Workcover states that the duration of exposure at this level before possible damage is 15 minutes. Common culprits are pneumatic hammers, drills, and saws. The problem is, many tradies use power tools in quick bursts or for a short duration, so it’s easy for them to think meh I’m only using it for 30 seconds.

It’s only fairly recently that people have understood how important it is to use adequate hearing protection when working in the presence of tool and machinery noise. Now there are better regulations in place. But self-employed workers and regular DIY home handymen are at particular risk because they’re poorly regulated or don’t understand the risks.

What does hearing loss feel like?

Hearing loss can sneak up on you but ask yourself if:

  • You find it hard to follow conversation in a crowded room
  • People always seem to be mumbling
  • The TV/radio is never loud enough
  • It’s easier to understand men’s voices than women’s and children’s
  • You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears

Audiologist Ross Dineen is author of that construction worker study I mentioned earlier. He suggests using the car radio for self-testing our hearing post shift.

Step 1: When driving home after work, set the car radio to a ‘comfortable’ volume while driving home so that you have a comparison point the next morning.

Step 2: When driving to work the next day, if the volume is no longer ‘comfortable’ (e.g. it is too loud), it is an indication of short-term hearing damage the day before.

*Remember, damage is accumulative.

If you’re in an occupation that leaves you at risk of hearing loss:

It’s crucial that you know how to identify and reduce noise hazards in your workplace. Like anything, prevention is key. So if you have to work in a noisy environment, then use the right hearing protection.

It’s also important to test your hearing regularly because if treatment is left too late you may lose your ability to comprehend and interpret particular sounds and it can become more difficult to get back to good hearing. Untreated hearing loss can also impact your ability to communicate on the job, and can lead to potentially dangerous situations for yourself or your coworkers.

The Speech Perception Test by Blamey Saunders Hears is a good way to keep track of your hearing levels. It’s free online and only takes about 10 minutes. Use it to create a baseline and take it regularly to identify any damage early on.

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