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30 Years of Hearing Loss Trends

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Apr 14, 2015 12:16:00 PM

30_years_hearing_loss_trendsA new study in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examines thirty years of hearing loss trends experienced by workers exposed to noise while at work, across various businesses. The analysis, released by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, discovered that while progress has been made in lessening the risk of hearing loss within most business sectors, additional efforts are needed within the Mining, Construction, and Social and Health Care Assistance sectors.

About 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous sound at work. Long-term exposure to dangerous noise, one instantaneous high noise exposure, or exposure to substances that damage hearing (ototoxic compounds) can cause work-related hearing loss - a job-related sickness which is permanent and possibly debilitating, but entirely preventable. This study is the first to look at thirty years of hearing loss trends by industry sector and give a birds-eye view of how workers are affected by hazardous noise environments.

"Looking at hearing loss trends across all businesses over an extended amount of time could provide a better comprehension of what still must be done for the protection of workers," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "Noise control in the workplace is directly linked to the avoidance of hearing loss among workers in all sectors and can favorably influence workers at work and at home."

In this study, NIOSH researchers examined audiograms - results from hearing evaluations for nearly 2 million sound-exposed workers from 1981-2010. A number of the key findings are as follows:

  • The overall prevalence of hearing loss for workers in all sectors remained consistent at 20% over the whole thirty-year interval. The prevalence is the absolute quantity of workers who have hearing loss (present and new cases) and illustrates the load of the sickness.
  • Risk and the prevalence of occurrence hearing loss fell over time, signaling some progress in occupational hearing loss prevention efforts more than 30 years. The prevalence is the amount of new instances of hearing loss.
  • The Building sector had the highest prevalence of hearing loss during most time periods.
  • Threats of event hearing loss were significantly lower during 2006-2010 for every industry sector except Mining, and Healthcare and Social Assistance.

Other variables could have contributed to the advancement in danger and prevalence, such as the entire reduction in smoking, which is better treatment of middle ear ailments, and a risk factor for hearing loss.

The findings in the Mining, Construction and Health Care and Social Assistance sectors are also supported by other research. The Mining sector has a greater percent of noise-exposed workers than any other U.S. industry. The Construction sector has less strict hearing conservation requirements than most sectors, as well as large percentage of independent contractors and the mobile, seasonal nature of construction work give rise to the problem in implementing hearing conservation practices. 74% of these workers have reported not wearing their hearing protection while only 4% of workers are exposed to dangerous sound in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector. Efforts to reduce both risk and the burden of hearing loss are still needed. There isn't any business where workers can be considered 'safe' from hearing loss.

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