Working in the trades comes with risks to eye and ear health. With loud sounds and projectiles in abundance, tradies need to take extra care to avoid hazards and protect their sight and hearing. However, new research suggests more than half of Kiwi tradies surveyed are putting their eyes and ears at risk on the job – 65 per cent of tradies are regularly not wearing hearing protection when they ought to be, while just 49 per cent regularly wear protective goggles.
The study, commissioned by Specsavers, New Zealand’s leading provider of eyesight and audiology services, saw just one in three respondents say they always wear hearing protection when in loud working environments, despite tradespeople being advised to wear protective equipment including earmuffs or earplugs when noise levels reach 85 decibels or more. Forty-seven per cent admitted to sometimes forgetting, while 28 per cent said wearing ear protection required too much effort.
“It’s worrying that skilled labourers aren’t taking the necessary measures to keep their ears protected as, generally, they are working in very loud conditions, exposing themselves to volumes that could cause long-term issues,” says Specsavers audiologist Kathryn Launchbury. “A ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to hearing could be detrimental for those working in loud environments. I’ve seen a lot of retired or older tradespeople who have hearing issues and have admitted to not wearing earmuffs on site regularly during their careers.”
When it comes to eye health, only 49 per cent of tradies always wear goggles when appropriate, with nine per cent saying they rarely or never do. As with ear protection, forgetting to wear goggles was the most common reason (43 per cent), while 18 per cent said they found them uncomfortable to wear and the same percentage even said they don’t have access to protective goggles on site.
“These results indicate that NZ tradies are exposing themselves to eye damage unnecessarily,” says Specsavers optometrist Philip Walsh. “Having small bits of metal, dust, dirt or grit in the eye can cause the eyes to water, cause redness, pain and a scratchy sensation on the eye. This type of irritation can cause your vision to become blurry or sensitive to light or even cause damage to the cornea, which is important to help focus your vision.”
Regular work outdoors also means UV light is a hazard to eyes, but only 34 per cent of tradies said they wear sunglasses when outside in summer. “Many people don’t realise that New Zealand has one of the highest UV rates in the world,” says Walsh. “With NZ tradies spending 4.6 hours per day outside on average, it’s very important they protect their eyes from sun damage, even outside of summer months.”
The study showed that working environments may already be impacting senses for some respondents. Of those who have worked in the trade industry for more than 10 years, 71 per cent believe that their work has had a negative impact on their hearing and 45 per cent on their eyesight.
But just three-fifths of those surveyed (62 per cent) said they had visited an optometrist in the past two years (the recommended time frame for adults), and just 44 per cent of respondents over 40 had been for a hearing test during the same time period.
When it comes to our eyes and ears, prevention is always our best protection, so it’s important tradies take care on the job. Specsavers audiologists and optometrists have tips to keep the ears and eyes of tradies protected when working in loud environments or completing tasks that present hazards to eyes. To protect long-term hearing, tradies should insist on wearing personal hearing protection such as earplugs, earmuffs or both; try to reduce the number of different noises happening at any one time; and use the ‘one metre rule’ to assess noise – if you need to raise your voice to talk to someone about one metre away, you can assume the sound level is likely to be hazardous to hearing. Everyday equipment, such as lawnmowers and power tools, may be loud enough to impact your hearing.
To shield eyes, Specsavers recommends wearing protective goggles while operating machinery where sawdust or projectiles could damage your eyes, and wearing sunglasses when working outside to prevent UV damage to the eyes. But looking after eye and ear health doesn’t stop once the working day is done. Specsavers encourages all tradies to get regular health checks to assess their eyes and ears.
At Specsavers stores across the country, AA members can claim a free eye test every two years and SuperGold Card Holders can obtain half-price eye tests. Customers can also undertake a free 15-minute hearing check at all Specsavers Audiology stores.
Visit www.specsavers.co.nz for more information and call your local store to book your hearing and eye test.