A leading Australian hearing professional is urging construction industry workers to wear hearing protection.

Leading Australian ear surgeon Dr Phillip Chang warns that people working in the construction industry are often exposed to dangerous noise levels, and they should not only wear ear protection but also get regular checks.

Dr Chang’s call comes on the eve of Hearing Awareness Week 2014 (24-30 August).

According to Dr Chang, noise induced hearing loss, or hearing decrease caused by loud sound, is very common in industries such as construction. Hearing is a major tool of the trade, and without optimal hearing builders cannot work safely and may not be allowed on site.

He said Hearing Awareness Week is a reminder for builders to look after their hearing and get their hearing checked.

Many building activities are louder than 90 decibels (dB), and the maximum safe exposure without ear protection is two hours or less. For example, it is considered safe to use an electric drill for up to two hours without hearing protection, but a jackhammer is only safe for 1.8 minutes without hearing protection.

Sound and pressure was the stated cause for more than 96 per cent of Australian workers’ compensation claims for hearing loss in 2001/2012.

Dr Chang says if builders are working next to a place of residence or work, the occupants may find the noise disruptive. However, it’s worse for those working on site, since prolonged exposure and proximity to excessive noise can damage their ears permanently.

Dr Chang explains excessive noise impacts the tiny hair cells in the cochlea, set deep inside the ear, which are responsible for sensing sound and transporting signals to the brain. Once these hair cells are damaged, they can’t send messages to the brain, impacting the person’s ability to hear all of the sounds happening around them. Worse, since hair cells cannot be repaired or replaced, hearing can be lost forever.

Young builders can be more vulnerable to permanent hearing loss, not only from exposure to noise but also because young people have been found to be complacent to hearing problems.

In the 2013 Cochlear Newspoll, the survey concluded that 67 per cent of young people with a hearing problem would rather turn up the TV than admit they have a hearing problem. Not being able to hear can lead people to withdraw from social situations and also have significant consequences at work.

One in six Australians is hearing impaired, a figure expected to rise to one in four in 2050 due to an ageing population. Machinery and noise damage affects the ability to hear high pitches, which is critical for clarity of speech.

Healthy hearing starts with wearing ear protection when there is increased exposure to noise, and seeing a professional for a hearing test.

Dr Chang urges those in the construction industry to get a hearing test this Hearing Awareness Week. A hearing test is the best way to confirm hearing loss, which can occur progressively and insidiously. It is quick, pain-free and straightforward.