Even a mild hearing loss can have a profound impact on your performance, safety, and emotional well-being at work. However, with the right support, it is possible to manage hearing loss in the workplace.
Understanding hearing loss in the workplace
3.6 million Australians have at least some level of hearing loss, and this is expected to double by 2060 as the population ages. So, if hearing loss is affecting your work: you are not alone.
A number of different health conditions can cause hearing loss as well as other factors such as age. In many cases, however, sensorineural hearing loss is caused by sustained or sudden exposure to loud noises. In fact, around 1 in 3 Australians have noise-related ear damage and over 1.3 million have hearing conditions that could have been prevented.
What causes hearing loss in the workplace?
When it comes to hearing loss and work, some industries are at higher risk than others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 80% of Australia’s hearing loss workers’ compensation claims between 2015-2020 came from trades, labourers, and machinery operators.
Other hearing loss in the workplace statistics include:
- 22% of workplace-related health issues globally are attributed to noise exposure.
- 1.1 million Australian employees are exposed to hazardous noise levels.
- 25% of the Australian workforce is estimated to suffer from Tinnitus.
Safework Australia guidelines ensure that employees are not exposed to hazardous noise. If these were not followed and your hearing loss was caused by your workplace, you may be eligible for compensation.
Common effects of hearing loss at work
Whether it was caused by work or not, there are many challenges that can arise when working with a hearing impairment.
When working with hearing loss, different environments and positions will present different practical challenges. For example, a graphic designer working mostly with visual tools may not feel the impact as much as a telesales representative in an open-plan office.
However, there are common signs which could indicate that hearing loss is affecting your work. These include:
– Difficulty understanding conversations, especially when there’s background noise
– Difficulty communicating via telephone
– Trouble picking up on social cues based on tone of voice
– Feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening
– Feeling isolated
– Not being aware of auditory alerts (like fire alarms)
If you’re frequently called upon in meetings and can’t hear what people are saying, the impression you leave may be less than ideal. Not responding to colleagues or appearing to ignore them can also lead to social isolation which can have a negative impact on your performance and emotional well-being.
If you’re feeling isolated, annoyed, or embarrassed because you can’t hear what’s going on, you could be experiencing progressive hearing loss.
Employer obligations for hearing impairment in the workplace
When it comes to working with hearing loss, it’s important to understand your rights.
As we’ve already mentioned, industries like construction which involve loud machinery have strict Work Health and Safety guidelines. But, when it comes to providing an inclusive and safe environment, all employers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to enable employees to balance hearing loss and work.
Is hearing loss considered a disability?
Yes. Although there are a few exemptions, hearing impairments can be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
Employers can take action when employees cannot perform the inherent requirements of their job, but only if all reasonable adjustments have been made to try and accommodate them first.
Tips for accommodating hearing impaired employees
If you are an employer looking for ways to accommodate employees balancing hearing loss and work, there are many things you can do.
Someone dealing with hearing impairment in the workplace may struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise. Removing music (if applicable) and optimising room acoustics is a good place to start, as is making sure that the office is well-lit so that they can clearly see people’s faces.
Providing a workstation in a quieter part of the office could also help, but remember to ask your employee what they would prefer. Some people might feel even more isolated in a quiet corner while others may appreciate this option.
many technological solutions that could help to improve a hearing-impaired employee’s experience and performance. These include:
– Amplified telephones
– Captioned phones
– Audio loops
– Strobe lights or vibrating pagers for fire alarms
These are just a few of the available solutions. Again, be sure to consult your employee to find the right option for them.
Hearing loss can cause many people to feel isolated and left out. Training your staff to be inclusive can therefore make a huge difference.
Tips for communicating with people with hearing impairment in the workplace include:
– Face your colleague so that they can see you when you’re speaking to them
– Adjust your volume so that they can hear you better
– Speak clearly, slowly, but also naturally so that they have time to process without feeling patronised
– Use hand gestures when appropriate
– Use visual aids in meetings and presentations
– Include your colleague in the process and ask them how they’d like to be spoken to
Is hearing loss affecting your work? Take action today!
There are many things your employer and colleagues can do if you are working with hearing loss, but the first step is getting a proper diagnosis. Understanding what you’re facing will help an audiologist refer you to the relevant experts for the right treatment and support.
Once you have a clear picture of the reason behind your hearing loss, there are steps you can take to manage hearing loss in the workplace. For example, Tinnitus or Meniere’s disease can make sufferers feel dizzy or nauseous. Explaining this condition to colleagues and managers will allow them to adapt the workplace to your needs.
Permanent hearing loss will require some changes to the way you work and you may need to request special equipment. Fortunately, Australia is a leader in the research and manufacturing of cutting-edge hearing technologies. In fact, many sensorineural hearing conditions can be treated with audio hearing devices that allow you to continue to function normally.
Don’t suffer in silence!
Don’t let hearing loss affect your work or your mental health. Take the first step towards getting the help you need by trying our free online hearing test.