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November's Health and Safety Message

ear protection
Noise-induced hearing loss:

A lot of old hat?

Almost 20 years ago I recall talking to the Safety Manager of a large International company, with a plant in New Zealand, about the hazard of occupational noise. I clearly recall his comments that "it's a lot of old hat". A few years earlier I had formed a working relationship with this manager when the Department of Health launched a national campaign: "the prevention of deafness in industry", with much publicity at the time. This was a planned response to the large number of New Zealanders estimated to have occupational noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), based on the level of notifications of this occupational disease around that time.

At the individual level, and around the same time, I recall the anger of a Mother whose 21 year old son had developed serious NIHL, from working as a concrete cutter for his Father, a self-employed contractor in the building industry.
fingers plug ears I also recall a Farmer full of sorrow and regret that his NIHL was the result of not wearing hearing protection when driving a tractor because in his words "it was a sissy thing to do", "I will make darn sure my sons wear hearing protection", he said.

So 20 years on is the problem of NIHL affecting individuals, organisations and industry solved? Well apparently not. According to the ACC, notwithstanding decades of information, public health promotion campaigns, Codes of Practice and regulations, there is currently an increasing problem from NIHL. In fact the problem is a serious one because there are 11 new serious injury claims for NIHL every day of the year: about 4000 annually.

hearing test

So what is being done about this serious problem? Well ACC is forming a national focus group to tackle the growing problem of occupational hearing loss. The expense and social impact of NIHL can be avoided: staff can keep their hearing intact throughout and beyond their working lives by proper management of occupational noise.

If NIHL was taken to be the indicator or marker of the performance and effectiveness of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and all individuals and organisations charged with the responsibility for occupational health and safety management what would be the outcome? However this message is not about this. It is a warning against complacency: about not dismissing familiar health and safety issues as being "a lot of old hat".

Paul Perry
OHS Advisor

Reference:

ACC Safer Industries Programme, Hearing Loss, (2007). Retrieved 30 October 2007 from www.acc.co.nz.

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