Australians risk hearing disabilities due to workplace chemicals

Published 06 Mar 2015

Many Australians could be risking hearing loss due to chemical exposure in the workplace, a new study by the University of Queensland (UQ) has suggested.

Approximately one in six people in the country suffer auditory loss to some degree, with Better Hearing Australia estimating this figure will climb to 25 per cent by 2050.

According to the UQ study, there are a number of professions that are more at risk of hearing loss than others, including clothing and footwear factories, spray-painters, textiles and aviation.

Dr Adrian Fuente of the university's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences said people underestimate the occupational hazards for those who come into contact with chemicals.

"While much is known about the dangers of noise exposure in the workplace, the public is often unaware of the role that certain chemicals can play in causing early hearing loss," he explained.

"Hearing loss is relevant to many Australians and it affects not just the individual, but also their family, friends and co-workers."

Better Hearing Australia statistics show nearly three-quarters of the 3.55 million Australians who reported hearing problems in 2005 were classed as having a disability.

Data from the Australian Network on Disability says there are 30,000 people in the country who use Auslan - the Australian sign language - due to total hearing loss.

"[Auditory issues] can also cause isolation, including avoidance of social situations, problems communicating at work and miscommunication at home," Dr Fuente added.

TPD claims

People whose hearing loss reaches a level where it's classed as a disability could be entitled to benefits if the problem prevents them from performing their job.

Financial support may be available under various insurance or superannuation policies, meaning those with permanent hearing loss can make a claim for a partial or total disability.

Anyone who would like to know more about TPD claims can contact a superannuation disputes lawyer, who can explain the process in more detail.

Successful claimants will receive a cash lump sum that can cover medical expenses, lost income and superannuation, and non-economic losses such as pain and suffering.

Meanwhile, Dr Fuente has urged employees working in high-risk industries to participate in the UQ study in an effort to spur outcomes that could help Australian workplaces become safer. Volunteers will have their auditory capabilities tested using non-invasive procedures.

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