US study highlights importance of hearing protection in workplace safety

Thursday, 14 October, 2021 | Supplied by: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

An estimated 22 million workers in the United States face exposure to hazardous noise at work each year. While fewer workers are exposed to noise in industries like finance and insurance, and health care and social assistance, researchers have found the highest prevalence of hearing protection device (HPDs) non-use among the exposed workers in these industries. Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have also found that female workers, young workers (aged 18–25) and current smokers had a higher prevalence of HPD non-use. This was revealed in a study from the NIOSH, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, that estimates that over half of noise-exposed workers didn’t use hearing protection ‘always’ or ‘usually’ when exposed to hazardous occupational noise. HPD non-use was only measured in workers who reported exposure to noise on the job.

Elizabeth Masterson, PhD, research epidemiologist and study co-author, said the findings regarding HPD non-use by gender and age group are consistent with previous studies. “However, no prior relationship between smoking and HPD non-use has been reported. Our study was the first to find a significant association between current smoking and HPD non-use,” Dr Masterson said. The study looked at 39,508 adult current workers from the 2007 and 2014 National Health Interview Surveys; the surveys asked participants about their HPD use and occupational noise exposure within the past year. Of the workers surveyed, 2057 reported exposure to occupational noise during the previous 12 months in 2007 and 3380 in 2014. Overall, between 2007 and 2014 the prevalence of HPD non-use did not change significantly.

Among all workers exposed to noise in 2014, researchers found that 53% did not wear hearing protection consistently. Industries with the highest HPD non-use among noise-exposed workers included accommodation and food services (90%), health care and social assistance (83%), and education services (82%). Some industries where noise is a well-recognised hazard, such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (74%) and construction (52%) were found to have high prevalence of HPD non-use. Dr Masterson stated that while the prevalence of HPD non-use remains high, increasing worker awareness and providing training about the importance of proper and consistent use of HPDs can protect workers from the effects of hazardous noise. “In addition, we need to overcome barriers to HPD use by ensuring that workers have HPDs that are comfortable and do not overprotect from noise so they can hear speech and other important workplace signals,” Dr Masterson said.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Tomasz Zajda

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