Why you can’t afford to neglect workplace hearing tests
By Mobile Screening CEO Simon Holt
Employers have a range of responsibilities when it comes to protecting their workers’ health. One way they can do this is by ensuring they perform regular workplace hearing tests to ensure that they are not putting their employees’ hearing at risk.
As hearing loss is irreversible once acquired and can permanently affect the lives of those affected, this is a responsibility that is taken seriously in Australian law.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers are required to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free of risk to health, as far as is reasonable.
The model Work Health and Safety Regulations (model WHS Regulations) published by the Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee and released by Safe Work Australia WHS Regulations also specify that employers must make sure the noise a worker is exposed to at the workplace doesn’t exceed the exposure standard for noise, and provide audiometric testing to a worker who is frequently required to use personal hearing protectors to protect them from hearing loss associated with noise that exceeds the exposure standard.
In many states in Australia it is mandatory that workers in noisy workplaces have their hearing tested (audiometric testing) within three months of starting work and then every two years. This is approach that is recommended by Safe Work Australia.
So, do you need to worry about protecting your workers’ hearing?
The answer might well be ‘yes’, as in Australia, between 28 and 32 per cent of the workforce is likely to experience loud noise at work. As a result of this exposure, 4,700 claims per year are made on average for noise-induced hearing loss, according to Work Safe Australia.
Damage to hearing can occur in different ways, first causing the loss of the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, and causing conversation to sound muffled, so the person might find it difficult to understand what is being said. Hearing damage can also cause tinnitus, a condition that can become permanent and, when severe, can lead to sleep disruption, reduced concentration, irritability and depression.
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. The frequency or pitch can also have some effect on hearing loss; high-pitched sounds are more damaging than low-pitched ones.
Regular exposure to noise above 85 decibels (or about the level made by a lawn mower) will cause gradual hearing loss in a significant number of people, and louder noises will accelerate this damage.
It is crucial that employers take their responsibility to protect the hearing of their workers seriously, both to comply with their obligations, and to ensure a safe and happy workplace.