Tradies urged to listen up as ear-expert demolishes hearing loss misconceptions

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

Aussie tradies have been urged not to let the risks of work-site-induced hearing damage fall on deaf ears. 

Despite working in one of the world’s noisiest environments, construction workers are often quick to disregard the importance of hearing health. 
The message comes in the wake of last Sunday’s World Hearing Day, a chance to raise awareness on preventing deafness and hearing loss among construction teams.

But experts say many tradies still refuse to listen when warned about the toll their jobs could take on their ear health, often allowing further damage to accumulate until the permanent symptoms occur.

Tradies high-risk for hearing loss

Hearing researcher and technology engineer Dr Matthieu Recugnat told Built-it that tradies’ consistently loud working environments make them one of the most high-risk groups of non-age related hearing damage. 

“Noise exposure is one of the main causes of hearing loss. It’s right up there with age-related hearing loss,” he said.

“What many tradies fail to realise is it’s not just loudness that causes hearing damage, it’s the time they are exposed to noise, and construction sites are places where it’s often consistently louder than everywhere else.” 

“One in five people will get some hearing loss in their lives, but it’s much higher for people in construction.” 

Nicknamed a “stealth hazard”, prolonged exposure to even moderate-level noise, such as the repetitive sound of work tools, can cause hearing loss over time.

Job-site misconceptions lead to hearing issues

Dr Recugnat says it’s another common hearing loss misconception, with many tradies wrongly believing that temporary hearing problems on-site aren’t accumulating damage in the long run.
“When you are on a construction site exposed to tools and alarm noises, it’s easy to dismiss any symptoms as temporary,” he told Build-it. 

“But the cells in the ears are one of the only cells in the body that don’t regenerate themselves. So once they are lost, they’re gone forever.”

Founder of tinnitus treatment app MindEar, which helps tradies with the early signs of hearing loss, Dr Recugnat says the preventable nature of noise-induced hearing loss has frustrated him. 

“It’s preventable, and that’s the main thing. It can be prevented with correct and proper hearing protection,” he told Build-it. 

“Tradies would seldom overlook other forms of PPE like eye protection or proper enclosed shoes, so why overlook the ears when they’re arguably more sensitive to damage.”

Top tips for working in noisy environments 

  • Wear hearing protectors such as earplugs or earmuffs.
  • Move your workstation away from noise sources.
  • Take your breaks (lunch, coffee, etc.) in places with low noise.
  • Avoid noisy pastimes that can add to your risk of hearing loss.
  • Discuss with your employer how the risk of hearing loss can be reduced.
  • Get your hearing checked every year. 

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 1.5 billion people worldwide have measurable hearing loss, and this number is increasing due to growth in life expectancy and noise exposure, particularly in occupational settings.

A recent study by Curtin University found that tinnitus is higher for people exposed to occupational noise, such as construction zones. 

But while tradies are at greater risk of noise-induced hearing impairment in the first place, they’re also less likely to seek treatment once hearing damage has occurred, leading to further damage and other occupational hazards.

“Research suggests only 80 per cent (of people with hearing loss symptoms) address the problem when they arise,” Dr Recugnat said. 

“Some tradies feel like it’s something to be ashamed of, but it’s not; it’s no different to getting glasses once your vision starts to falter.” 

“The problem with non-addressed hearing loss causes other problems such as isolation and communication breakdown, so you’re not interacting within the environment the same as if you had a proper hearing.”

Hearing loss treatment doesn’t have to begin with hearing aids; there are trained behavioural techniques, assisted listening devices, and apps that can make a massive difference in improving impaired hearing problems.

If you suspect a family member is experiencing hearing difficulties, a simple yet effective approach is to spend time outdoors together, enjoying the environment’s ambience. 

Paying attention to the varied range of sounds around you, check if your loved one has trouble hearing them, and if so, it is time to suggest a visit to a hearing care specialist. 

For those who acknowledge they are facing hearing loss or tinnitus, guiding them to discuss their condition with their GP is a helpful first step.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.