Hearing Loss at Work

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is more common than diabetes or even cancer.  Occupational hearing loss is also the most common U.S. work-related illness.  In fact, the CDC found about 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous occupational noise.

The CDC’s Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project recently compared the prevalence of hearing loss within nine U.S. industry sectors.  Researchers used 1.4 million worker audiograms in the study.  Those audiograms were from workers exposed to high noise levels from 2003 to 2012 and was defined as greater than 85 decibels on the A-scale.

Here’s more interesting, but not necessarily surprising facts, from the study.  A greater percentage of males had hearing impairment (14%) compared to females (7%). The severity of hearing loss seemed to increase as participants got older.  The public safety sector, which includes police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers, actually had the lowest prevalence of workers who were experiencing hearing loss (7%).

Here are some other findings from the study:

  • Occupational hearing loss has been well-established in construction, but current noise regulations don’t require audiometric testing for construction workers. Without testing, intervention could be delayed and or might not occur.
  • Some manufacturing sub-sectors – such as wood product, apparel and machinery manufacturing – have occupational hearing loss risks as high as those in mining and construction.

The authors of the study say early detection of hearing loss by annual audiometric testing and intervention to prevent further loss (such as training) is critical.  The study results support beginning rehabilitation for workers at a mild level of hearing impairment to help workers’ quality of life.

If you are looking for more information about hearing conservation programs in your workplace, check out OSHAcademy course 751: Hearing Conservation Program Management.  This course summarizes the required components of OSHA’s hearing conservation program for general industry. It covers monitoring, audiometric testing, hearing protectors, training, and recordkeeping requirements.