ADEQUACY OF EDUCATION AND AWARENESS PROGRAMS
The future hearing health of Australians is reliant on
positive action by individuals and the community. In the same manner that early
awareness is drawn to the future damaging effects of excessive UV-radiation so
exposure to potentially damaging noise must be highlighted with the consistent
message of “Damage your hearing and...It Won’t Come Back”.
Dr Warwick Williams, Submission 14, pp 2-3
This chapter assesses the adequacy of current hearing health education
and awareness campaigns, and explores the need for a nationally coordinated and
consistent, public health awareness campaign to prevent and de-stigmatise
Current education and awareness programs
The Australian Government's primary funding mechanism for hearing loss
prevention activities is through the Hearing Loss and Prevention Program (HLPP)
which particularly targets the prevention of hearing loss in young people,
Indigenous Australians and those in the workplace. In June 2009, $1.3 million
was allocated to four prevention projects in the first funding round. A second
funding round for prevention projects was also scheduled for 2009.
The Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) also funds specific hearing
health initiatives by the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Health (OATSIH) and the National Immunisation Program.
The National Acoustic Laboratory (NAL) is currently developing an
educational program for Australian school children that can be incorporated
into the curricula for years four to five, and that will be adapted for
Indigenous children, to raise awareness about hearing protection and risks to
Australian Hearing also promotes awareness of hearing loss and the
consequences of hearing loss to the broader community through regular
promotional campaigns, participation in Hearing Awareness Week activities,
promotion of research that is of interest to the general community, community
engagement and awareness activities with culturally and linguistically diverse
(CALD) communities, and delivery of community education as part of its
Australian Hearing Specialist Program for Indigenous Australians.
The committee has received a large amount of evidence about education
and awareness campaigns run by not-for-profit organisations and volunteers,
including Hearing Awareness Week.
Edith Cowan University is currently developing a science museum
demonstration of simulated hearing loss and tinnitus, as well as a strategy for
hearing health promotion that will target adolescents.
The need for a national public information/awareness campaign
Ms Shaunine Quinn of Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied
Health (SARRAH) commented to the committee:
I think Australians have a poor awareness of this very
important public health issue...The greatest form of preventative hearing loss is
noise induced hearing loss and we currently have no public education.
As noted in chapter two, hearing loss in adults is commonly caused by
the ageing process, and by excessive exposure to occupational or recreational
noise, with an estimated 37 per cent of hearing loss believed to be preventable.
Hearing Awareness Week is held every year in the last week of August,
and is promoted strongly. However the success of this campaign is limited by
Audiology Australia argued that current education and hearing awareness
programs receive ad hoc funding, rather than long term funding arrangements,
and that the development of effective, ongoing hearing health campaigns is therefore
One witness made similar remarks about workplace oriented hearing health
education programs. These programs, claimed Dr Warwick Williams, have been run
only for short periods of time, and were not especially successful at raising
awareness about the impacts of excessive noise exposure on hearing loss.
Despite the large volume of evidence which shows that a large proportion
of hearing loss is preventable, and that steps can be taken to mitigate the
risks, there is currently no on-going, consolidated Australia-wide hearing
health awareness or public education program. Professor Harvey Dillon,
Director of NAL, gave evidence that while NAL takes every opportunity to run
short-term prevention programs, it does not receive any funding for public
awareness campaigns. Rather, funding is directed toward doing 'the research to
work out what an education campaign should look like'.
NAL found in a 2009 literature review that 'there are currently no large
scale, on-going general hearing health education or awareness programs in
The evidence suggested that while there is always a need for ongoing research, there
is also a pressing need for the wide-spread dissemination of existing knowledge
in an effort to reduce the incidence of preventable hearing loss through
The submission from New South Wales (NSW) Health details the recognition
by the NSW Government of the need to promote awareness about hearing health and
hearing protection. NSW Health is currently developing a Hearing Health
Protection Strategy. NSW Health noted, however, the need for all governments to
collaborate in health promotion activities to ensure consistent hearing health
messages and avoid duplication.
The committee has received submissions arguing that hearing health
should be a national health priority.
As discussed in chapters three and four, hearing impairment can have a
significant impact on the life of individuals, their friends and families,
health services and the economy. The Western Australian (WA) Government commented
that benefits in productivity, individual patient wellbeing and in the
community more generally should be expected if hearing health prevention and
education programs are implemented.
The evidence strongly suggested the need for a nationally coordinated,
adequately funded, public education and awareness campaign (such as a National
Hearing Awareness and Noise Prevention Campaign). This campaign would increase
appreciation and understanding among the targeted population groups of risks to
hearing health, and contribute to a society that was more understanding and
supportive of people with hearing loss. Submissions proposed that such a
national campaign should focus on public education programs for preventative
care, promotion of good hearing health at home and in the workplace, and target
those most at risk of hearing loss. A national campaign should also include
further awareness-raising as an essential part of education and training in
universities, hospitals, education departments and rehabilitation centres.
A number of submissions noted the effectiveness of national public
health campaigns, such as those for mental health, depression (particularly
Beyondblue), skin cancer, and tobacco smoking. The evidence argued that these
campaigns have helped bring about changes in community knowledge, attitudes and
Professor Dillon suggested to the committee that the media and the
public have been responsive to prevention and education activities that have
We (NAL) get on TV and radio as often as we can, when we have
some research finding or even when there is a research finding from overseas,
and the press does seem to lap it up.
Professor Dillon commented on the effects of one study, repeated three
times over a six-year period, which showed the level of noise coming out of a
person's personal music player had come down over the period of the study: 'It
was a significant difference. So the many messages we put out on TV and radio
are maybe having a bit of an impact.'
Targeting Occupational noise induced
hearing loss (ONIHL)
The committee heard that the prevention of ONIHL would be beneficial not
only to the individual, but also to the national economy. As discussed in
chapter two, ONIHL is major issue for many Australian workers, and may have
substantial cost implications for employers and for governments.
Some submissions remarked that regulations relating to ONIHL have been
in place in various forms in Australia since the 1980s.
Legislation for minimising occupational noise exposure also exists, and the
Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council has developed a
national standard for the control of ONIHL that has been widely adopted into
state regulations. However there are no nationally coordinated campaigns
regarding occupational noise induced hearing loss, and the affects of excessive
noise exposure in the workplace.
The Deafness Forum of Australia commented that sufficient funds should
be made available to implement a national ONIHL prevention program following
completion of the Getting Heard project. Such a program would promote
best practice in regulation, provision of information regarding noise
management to employees and employers, and target workers entering industries
with high noise exposure.
Targeting farming populations
As noted in chapter two of this report, there is a lack of awareness
about the risks of ONIHL among farmers. Farmsafe Australia noted that is also
difficult for farming populations to access screening and support services, as
discussed in chapter five, and that these issues are required to be considered
for effective prevention.
Assessments of the Rural Noise Injury Prevention Program and other
initiatives targeting farmers have shown considerable success. Farmsafe
Australia reported results of the Rural Noise Injury Prevention Program which included
an improvement in the mean hearing thresholds in all age groups in 2002-2008
compared to 1994-2001, and an increase in farmers who 'always' use protection
when using chainsaws of 17.5 per cent and 10.7 percent when using firearms.
SARRAH also submitted that in the six months following Farmsafe's
voluntary 'Managing Farm Safety' course, participating farmers were eight times
more likely than their non-participating counterparts to use hearing protection.
Submissions therefore argued the need for the development and
implementation of an Australia-wide farm noise injury prevention strategy which
includes rural specific audiometric assessment and referral services, and
promotion of preventative, support and treatment services in communities to
provide clear direction on access options for services. The committee particularly
notes the possibility that such a strategy could be based on Farmsafe
Australia's Rural Noise Injury Prevention Program, and Noise Injury Prevention
Strategy for the Australian Farming Community.
Targeting excessive exposure to
recreational noise, including the use of personal music players by young people
As discussed at chapter two, many submissions received by the committee
expressed concern about the damage people, particularly young people, may be
doing to their hearing by listening to personal music players at excessive
volumes, and attending loud live music venues.
Daniel Lalor commented that there is a lack of awareness among young
people about the risks they may be exposed to when they attend entertainment
venues, concerts and festivals where amplified sounds:
...cause people’s ears to ‘ring’ or ‘hurt’ for days afterwards,
but there is very little awareness that such exposure can cause permanent and
cumulative damage to hearing. There is also little awareness that preventative
measures such as quality sound reduction earplugs can reduce the risk of
hearing damage, while not interfering with enjoyment of the music and social
exchange...[m]y generation is targeted in social marketing for binge drinking and
drink driving, and for the problems/violence associated with this, but many don’t
know of the risk of hearing loss.
Concern has been raised regarding the accumulative affects of NIHL,
including by Professor Dillon who said that young people need to be aware that
noise damage accumulates gradually and is often not noticed until it is too
While only a small proportion of older Australians attribute
their hearing loss to loud music, it is probable that this statistic will grow
when today’s MP3-listening, club-going Generation Y’ers reach retirement or
probably earlier...Listening to a personal stereo at maximum volume is about the
equivalent to listening to a chainsaw...
Professor Robert Cowan of the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC)
commented to the committee that:
Most people use, for example, iPods or MP3 players. There has
been a lot of that in the press, but most people use these for travelling. If
you look at the background level of sound in most public transport, it is about
75 decibels. So, to listen to music at a comfortable level above that, we need
to go up to 90 to 95 decibels—which, if I employed you, I would have to give
you hearing protection for.
Submissions received by the committee note the lack of regulatory
controls on noise exposure for audiences at music and vehicle racing events,
patrons in restaurants and bars, and personal music players. One witness also
commented on the risks to the hearing of people working in those environments.
Submitters argued that greater community awareness of hearing health
issues should be a top national health and education priority,
and that the effects of excessive exposure to noise needs to be more
effectively communicated to young people.
It was suggested to the committee that strategies to target young people
could include the use of digital and new media, outdoor advertising (rather
than newspapers and on television), targeting universities and schools, and
featuring musicians or celebrities promoting hearing protection (such as
wearing ear plugs).
The committee has been directed to the 'Don't lose the music' campaign
in the United Kingdon which aims to provide information and awareness to young
people about recreational hearing loss.
The 'Don't lose the music' campaign aims to raise awareness and focus on the
distribution of information and advice to young people regarding hearing health
through a website and other forms of media, promotional partnerships, at
events, festivals and nightclubs and through the support of musicians and djs.
One submitter directed the committee to work by the European Commission,
which in September 2009 required that:
.... new technical safety standards to be drawn up that would
set default settings of players at a safe level and allow consumers to override
these only after receiving clear warnings so they know the risks they are
The evidence suggests a significant need for a targeted campaign to
raise awareness among the community, and particularly young people, about the
risk of recreational NIHL.
General awareness raising in the
community to de-stigmatise hearing loss
The committee received submissions arguing that strong stigmatisation of
people with hearing impairment has resulted from a lack of understanding about
hearing impairment among the general community, and that this has adversely
affected people who are hearing impaired.
Dr Anthony Hogan commented that:
The basic strategies people need to use to cope with hearing
loss in social settings are not difficult to learn (e.g. asking people to face
you, to speak slowly and clearly, to move away from the light). However, most
people with hearing loss feel that it is not legitimate to ask people to make
these basic changes for them.
The committee heard from one witness who, due to a perceived lack of
understanding among the community, was tired of:
...being excluded from the world in general, sick of people who
work in retail or other businesses and organisations who pretend to understand
what I say or ignore me or ignore my simple signed requests to have a pen and
paper to write down what I need to say to them and also too many inadequately
trained people work in many places and have not served us deaf people fairly...many
places that serve clients or customers don't understand deafness and as a result
we get dismissed, treated unfairly or like 2nd rate citizens. Like bus and taxi
drivers have very little respect for deaf people, retailers are rude and don't
listen to us...
Some submissions therefore proposed that a national campaign to raise
awareness about hearing impairment, the communication needs of people who are
hearing impaired, and promoting their capabilities in order to improve the
social participation of people with hearing impairment.
It was proposed that such a campaign be targeted at increasing general
understanding within the travel, hospitality and communication industries about
the needs of people who are hearing impaired.
Improving the management of hearing
impairment and assistance devices
The committee has received recommendations that a targeted education
campaign should be developed to assist in the management and detection of
Submissions have outlined a need to increase awareness among people with
a hearing impairment about technologies to help access assistive technologies,
and installed systems such as hearing loops which are often underused and
subsequently not appropriately maintained.
Canberra Deaf Children's Association noted that hearing loss may develop
after the newborn health screening, and that public education needs to
encourage parents to investigate possible hearing loss at any stage of a
Submissions further identify a need to raise awareness about options for
the management of congenital hearing loss, hearing impairment in older people,
and making people conscious of the need to utilise their hearing aids.
The committee is persuaded by the evidence that a national campaign to
raise the profile of hearing health issues is in the long term interest of all
Australians. The campaign could raise awareness of issues among at-risk groups,
and promote understanding about the needs of those who have a hearing loss
among those who do not. The campaign could also provide information about where
hearing impaired people can go for support and advice, a need that has been
evident throughout this inquiry.
This report has noted in several places the significant economic impact
of hearing loss on Australia. A national campaign could form a central aspect
of a larger strategy to reduce preventable hearing loss in future years, and in
turn reduce the economic impact.
The committee believes that the at-risk groups most likely to benefit
from such a campaign would include employers and employees in high-risk
industry areas, farm and rural workers, and young people who are exposed to
recreational noise at loud levels.
The committee heard that playing personal music players at excessive
volumes may be found to be harmful to the long term hearing of young people,
though the evidence is not yet conclusive. Nevertheless the committee believes
that a cautious approach is appropriate when the consequences of inaction may
be so serious. The committee is impressed by the approach taken by the European
Union in this area, and has made a recommendation at chapter two that Australia
adopt similar practices.
The committee recommends that the Department of Health and Ageing
provides funding for Australian Hearing to develop, in close consultation with
major hearing health stakeholders, a national hearing health awareness and
prevention education campaign. This campaign should have three dimensions. It
target those at highest risk of acquired hearing loss (including
employers and employees in high-risk industries, farmers and rural workers, and
young people) to improve their knowledge about hearing health and change risky
raise the level of awareness about hearing health issues among
the broader Australian population to help de-stigmatise hearing loss; and
promote access to support services for people who are hearing
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