More effort needed to cut healthcare workers’ hearing loss


Additional efforts are needed to cut employee hearing loss in the healthcare sector. That is a key finding of a new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

It examines thirty years of hearing loss trends experienced by workers exposed to noise while on the job, across various industries. The study, published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found that while progress has been made in reducing the risk of hearing loss within most industry sectors, additional efforts are needed within the mining, construction, and healthcare and social assistance sectors.

Approximately 22 million US workers are exposed to hazardous noise at work. Long-term exposure to hazardous noise, a single instantaneous high noise exposure, or exposure to chemicals that damage hearing (ototoxic chemicals) can cause occupational hearing loss – a job-related illness that is permanent and potentially debilitating, but entirely preventable.

“Looking at hearing loss trends across all industries over a long period of time can provide a better understanding of what still needs to be done for the protection of workers,” said NIOSH director John Howard. “Noise control in the workplace is directly linked to the prevention of hearing loss among workers in all industries and can positively impact workers on the job and at home.”

In this study, NIOSH researchers examined audiograms - results from hearing tests for almost 2 million noise-exposed workers from 1981-2010. It found that risks of incident hearing loss were significantly lower during 2006-2010 for every industry sector except mining, and healthcare and social assistance.

The findings in the healthcare and social assistance sectors are also supported by other research. While only 4% of workers are exposed to hazardous noise in the healthcare and social assistance sector, 74% of these workers have reported not wearing their hearing protection. Efforts to reduce both the burden and risk of hearing loss are still needed, states the report.

Risk Management, US, NIOSH, John Howard