Transport and storage needs 'priority attention'

Transport and storage sector told to devote "priority attention" to reduce noise-induced hearing loss among workers

Transport and storage needs 'priority attention'
Transport and storage needs 'priority attention'
By Brad Gardner | August 31, 2010

The transport and storage sector must devote "priority attention" to reducing hearing loss among its workers, according to a new report.

Safe Work Australia has found less than half of transport and storage workers wear personal hearing protectors despite the industry being classified as a "high risk".

According to the Occupational Noise-induced Hearing Loss in Australia report, 45 percent of workers wear protectors always or most of the time compared to 36 percent who never wear them.

Safe Work Australia says the provision of protectors (60 percent), their use and at-source noise control measures (38 percent) are lower than other at-risk industries.

Construction (83 percent) and manufacturing (80 percent) have the highest provision of protectors. Agriculture, forestry and fishing (69 percent) and manufacturing (65 percent) have the highest propensity to wear protectors.

According to the report, the transport and storage sector reported a lack of worker complaints and compensation claims for not addressing hearing loss.

"It was generally felt that it was up to employees to speak up if there was an issue," the report says.

"Transport and storage managers (30%) and small businesses (34%) are less likely to have made an intentional noise control investment, compared with 53% of large businesses."

However, it also found 99 percent of managers in the transport and storage sector reported quiet areas are available compared to 91 percent of employees.

"While it is possible that workers are not as well informed of the measures taken as their managers, results could also suggest that workers feel that more can be done to minimise current levels of exposure to loud noise," Safe Work Australia says.

It says there were about 16,500 successful compensation claims for industrial deafness between July 2002 and June 2007. Of that number, 65 percent of claims came from the manufacturing, construction and transport and storage industries.

The report points to causes for the lack of use of personal hearing protectors, saying respondents feel they are uncomfortable and restrict their ability to hear signals and speak to colleagues.

It goes on to say that there is insufficient knowledge about hearing loss and that some companies consider noise control investment too costly.

Other respondents believe hearing loss is inevitable, while others claim it will not happen to them.

"This research project found that increased awareness, prominence, self-efficacy, economic and regulatory incentives, and managerial commitment are the most promising enablers of the adoption of effective control," the report says.

According to the report, 43 percent of transport and storage workers have been exposed to workplace noise for more than 10 years, with 10 percent exposed to noise for 10 more hours a day.

But it adds that the majority of workers (39 percent) are exposed to loud noise for less than two hours, with 10 percent exposed between six to 10 hours.

Heavy machinery, forklifts, generators and pumps are the most common source of loud noise in a company (17 percent), alongside drills and grinders.

Trucks (14 percent) were listed as the fifth source of noise in a company, behind machinery (16 percent) and speakers/live entertainment (16 percent).

Safe Work Australia says hearing loss imposes an economic burden on workers and their families, business owners and managers and wider society. It says hearing loss can cause annoyance and fatigue and serious problems like hypertension.

Companies are required to limit exposure to hearing loss by using quieter machinery, isolating the noise and installing mufflers, guards and enclosures.

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