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New Study Reveals that 1 in 8 Workers Has a Hearing Loss

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Hearing Centers of AZ - New Study Reveals that 1 in 8 Workers Has a Hearing LossNew research is showing that about one out of every eight noise-exposed workers experiences hearing loss. A recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) study of over 1.4 million workers found the rate of hearing loss to be just under 13% across job sectors with mining, construction and manufacturing posing the most risk to hearing health.

The study looked at audiograms for workers with on-the-job noise exposure across nine major employment sectors and correlated the data with measurable levels of hearing loss. In the mining industry, the research found nearly 17% of participants had some level of hearing loss, more than double the rate they found in the least affected sector, public safety.

 

Occupational Noise and Hearing

Over 75% of workers in mining are exposed to loud occupational noise, and this is reflected in their industry’s hearing loss statistics. Their rate of hearing loss is 30% higher than the average. Compared to less-impacted sectors like transportation/warehousing/utilities, mining has about three times the cases of moderate to severe hearing loss.

The job sectors that followed mining closely in the statistics were construction (with 16% incidence of hearing loss) and manufacturing (with 14%).  All three of these fields with the highest amount of hearing loss also have high risks of occupational noise exposure. The services sector and retail and wholesale jobs presented hearing risks around the average, 13%. Hearing damage in agriculture and forestry was slightly less than average, around 11%.

The economic sectors with the lowest rates of hearing loss are public safety (7%), transportation, warehousing and utilities (8%), and healthcare work (10.5%).  The hearing impairment in public safety is less than half the rate in mining, representing a significant occupational gap in hearing health.

On-the-job noise exposure contributes to hearing loss being the third most prevalent chronic health condition in the U.S., affecting over 40 million people. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, estimates 22 million people are exposed to potentially damaging noise at their workplace.

 

Preventing Hearing Loss and Understanding Hearing Protection

Working in a noisy industry doesn’t guarantee hearing impairment. With proper safety precautions, the dangers of occupational noise can oftentimes be neutralized. Wearing the proper ear protection can make all the difference and is likely why even some inherently loud professions like firefighting or warehouse jobs have a low rate of hearing loss.

In any noisy environment, it’s a good idea to wear ear plugs. If noise levels register at 85 decibels or above for any prolonged period, it is best to opt for hearing protection with a high Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The hearing protection offered is greater the higher the NRR number is. You can calculate how many decibels your hearing protection will reduce sound by based on the NRR number. To do this, subtract 7 from the NRR and divide by 2. For example, earmuffs rated at NRR 27dB would ultimately reduce noise by 10 dB. OSHA guidelines offer protections for workers in reporting job safety concerns. Under OSHA regulations, employees cannot be penalized for pursuing a safe workplace.

 

Reflecting the Workforce

The audiograms studied were collected from the Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project run by the National institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Subjects with exposure to on-the-job noise of 85 decibels or more were given audiograms in compliance with safety regulations. Because the study is based on existing regulatory audiograms there are some noticeable outstanding statistics in the population studied.

In the CDC’s data, over three quarters of the audiograms studied came from male workers, while as a whole, men account for only 53% of the U.S. workforce. Also, almost two thirds (66%) of the data came from one job sector: manufacturing, which makes up an estimated 20% of the American job economy. These outsized representations reflect the continued dominance of men in heavy industry and manufacturing, which also are fields that have more incidents of noise exposure. Despite the ways this approach differs from the workforce as a whole, it is clear that occupational noise is having an impact on hearing loss. It is also clear that the way dangerous noise is handled at work has an impact on permanent hearing damage.

 

Take Action on Hearing Loss

There’s no reason to wait if you suspect you may have experienced hearing damage. Not confronting hearing loss when it first becomes noticeable can compound the harmful side effects, while treatment can help manage them. If you think you may have hearing loss or a concern about your occupational noise exposure contact us today at one of our Hearing Centers of Arizona locations (Casa Grande, Maricopa, San Manuel, and Florence).

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