Power tools and hearing loss

Australian Hearing
Monday, 18 February, 2019

Power tools and hearing loss

Industrial noise is an unavoidable part of the building sector and tradies are being urged to protect themselves against the risk of permanent hearing loss.

Tradies across the country are at risk of developing permanent hearing loss due to noise hazards on the job. Australian Hearing is urging tradies to ‘listen’ to the latest guidelines on how to protect their hearing health. It’s as simple as wearing hearing protection devices — at work and during leisure time.

Hearing loss due to excessive noise from machinery and power tools is one of the most widespread, yet preventable, workplace injuries.1 But there is good news, with recent findings showing that tradies who use hearing protection devices at work are also more likely to use them during noisy leisure pursuits.

A national survey of more than 8000 Australian adults1 conducted by the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), the research division of Australian Hearing, reveals that workplace users of hearing protection devices are five times more likely to use them at leisure. Men were significantly more likely than women to use hearing protection in 10 out of 20 leisure activities, and those with tinnitus were also more likely to don the earmuffs.1

Dr Elizabeth Beach is a Senior Research Psychologist at NAL and co-authored the report on hearing devices. She says that, while it’s heartening to see that use at work predicts use at play, there are several signs you might have a hearing problem.

“If you’ve worked with noisy machinery or tools and have noticed that you can’t hear the television or phone as well as you used to, or if you’re noticing you need to ask people to repeat themselves, you might have sustained some noise-induced hearing damage.

“It’s important to seek help to determine the extent of the damage and consider solutions,” she said.

Preventative steps

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. Here are some preventative steps you can take to lessen the chances of permanent damage.

  1. One of the most effective ways of reducing noise is to ‘buy quiet’. Next time you need to purchase a new saw or drill, check the manufacturer specifications and choose a model with a lower noise rating.
  2. Choose well-fitted hearing protection to keep industrial noise below harmful levels.
  3. Choose hearing protection that’s comfortable to wear for long periods — this goes for earmuffs or earplugs, disposable or re-usable — as it’s critical to find a style that works for you.
  4. Remember: 85 decibels is considered the safe noise threshold2. If the sound of your tools is loud enough to require raising your voice to be heard, appropriate hearing protection should be worn.

Kim Terrell, Managing Director of Australian Hearing, says healthy hearing should be incorporated into lifestyles, not just the workplace.

“Research suggests that use of hearing protection devices does reduce the risk of hearing loss and there has been advancement to improve useability in the workplace. Australian Hearing continues to look at ways to reduce the incidence of preventable hearing loss as part of its commitment to provide world-leading research and hearing services. We encourage tradespeople to incorporate healthy hearing into their lifestyle,” he said.

Fast facts for risk-averse tradies

  • Lasting damage can result from a one-off exposure to excessively loud noise or from repeated exposures to moderately loud sound over an extended period of time.3
  • Power tools often exceed 100 decibels, so even if they’re only used for a short time, the damage to hearing can be permanent. Common culprits are pneumatic hammers, drills and saws.3
  1. Elizabeth Francis Beach, Megan Gilliver & Warwick Williams (2016), Hearing protection devices: Use at work predicts use at play, Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, 71:5, 281-288, DOI: 10.1080/19338244.2015.1089828. 2016
  2. Safe Work Australia – Work Health and Safety Regulations – September 2015
  3. Pro Choice Educational Hearing Guide: http://www.prochoice.com.au/Libraries/Educational_eBrochures/Workplace_Hearing_Protection_Guide.sflb.ashx

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Highway Starz

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