ACC claims for hearing loss soar

Hearing loss has become a "silent epidemic". The number of New Zealanders making ACC claims for industrial deafness has increased 658% in the past decade.

Dunedin School of Medicine Occupational Health senior lecturer Dr David McBride said there were 2557 claims for industrial deafness in 1997, and in the past 10 years the number had increased to 19,386.

Dr McBride said noise affected an estimated 1.47 million workers, or 25% of the New Zealand workforce, and he was concerned that despite the knowledge of effective controls (such as earmuffs) since the mid-1980s, there was no evidence to show hearing loss was decreasing.

"We shouldn't be seeing this in this day and age. Hearing loss has become a silent epidemic."

Those at most risk of hearing loss worked in the forestry, timber processing and engineering industries, but people in factory production lines, roading, building sites and agriculture were also at risk, he said.

Dr McBride said there were good tools on the market which were quiet, but they were more expensive and many employers opted to give their staff earmuffs instead.

"But staff don't always wear them. People working in really noisy areas all day do wear them, but when people are in jobs with intermittent noise, they tend not to use them."

The cost of claims to ACC had increased 787.7% from $6.966 million to $61.837 million during the past decade, he said.

Much of the increase was due to claims for hearing aids, which cost between $500 and $5000.

"They're very expensive and people can't afford to pay for them. So they have to go to ACC to pay for them."

Southern Audiology audiometrist Marc Andriessen said his clinic at the Marinoto Clinic had been fully booked for the past five years.

However, Mr Andriessen did not believe the increase in ACC claims was due to more people damaging their ears in noisy workplaces.

"There is simply a better awareness out there of hearing loss. Hearing aid companies have been marketing in various ways to make people aware that hearing aids are not big bananas behind your ears.

"They are now very small and people are more open to the idea of wearing them."

Dr McBride said while he expected hearing loss to become even more common as the population aged, he was concerned about the younger generations damaging their hearing in recreational pursuits.

It was possible for damaged ears to be repaired after short-term exposure to loud noise, but people who spent long hours listening to loud music on earphones or at nightclubs risked permanent damage.

People listening to music on headphones should have them on half volume and those going into nightclubs should consider wearing earplugs.

"Any time you have to shout at a person an arm's length away to be heard means you are in an environment that is too loud and you're damaging your hearing."


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