Risks of Hearing Loss Remain Flat, With Exceptions
The prevalence of hearing loss among U.S. workers has remained at 20 percent for the last 30 years. Researchers say there have been improvements in most areas, but certain sectors continue to put workers at risk.
Occupational hearing loss is permanent and potentially debilitating but preventable, according to government experts. They looked at audiograms for 1.8 million workers between 1981 and 2010 to estimate hearing loss trends in various industries.
“The adjusted risk for incident hearing loss decreased over time when all industry sectors were combined,” according to their report, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. “However, the risk remained high for workers in healthcare and social assistance, and the prevalence was consistently high for mining and construction workers.”
Some 22 million workers are exposed to noise hazards at work. Hazardous noise, a single instantaneous high noise exposure, or exposure to chemicals that damage hearing can result in occupational hearing loss. The study from researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is said to be the first to offer a broad look at hearing loss risks to workers over a 30-year period.
The construction industry had the highest number of new hearing loss cases during the study period, possibly due to less stringent hearing conservation requirements compared with other industries. Also, the seasonal nature of work involving independent contractors makes it difficult to implement preventive measures.
Mining has the highest percentage of noise exposed workers than any other industry, the report said. A small fraction of workers in the health care and social assistance sector are exposed to hearing risks. However, the vast majority report not wearing protection.
“There is no industry where workers can be considered ‘safe’ from hearing loss.”