Occupational hearing loss has long been a problem, as workers are often exposed to dangerously loud sounds. New research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health looked to determine if workers in the Services industry, the largest sector in the U.S., had an increased risk of hearing loss.
Hazardous Work Conditions
Occupational hearing loss occurs when workers are exposed to hazardous noise or chemicals that damage their ears. In addition to causing hearing loss, this exposure is also associated with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Tinnitus and depression also commonly occur when hearing loss is present.
Services Sector Research
The new study published in the July issue of the International Journal of Audiology examined the audiograms of 1.9 million workers exposed to noise across all industries between 2006 and 2015. A total of 158,436 were Services workers. While the researchers found that the prevalence of hearing loss within Services work (17 percent) was very similar to that of all industries combined (16 percent), they also found that:
- Many sub-sectors exceeded the prevalence of hearing loss by 10 to 33 percent.
- Many sub-sectors showed a high risk for hearing loss.
- Administration of Urban Planning and Community and Rural Development workers had a 50 percent prevalence of hearing loss.
- Solid Waste Combustors and Incinerators workers had double the risk of hearing loss, which was the highest of any sub-sector.
- Some sub-sectors previously labeled as low risk, such as Custom Computer.
- Programming Services (35 percent) and Elementary and Secondary Schools (26 percent) had higher than expected prevalence and risk of hearing loss.
How to Interpret These Results
This study indicates that a large number of workers are at an elevated risk of developing hearing loss. The good news is that occupational hearing loss is often preventable. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends removing and reducing noise at the source. If noise levels cannot be reduced and brought down to a safe level, a hearing conservation program should be implemented. This includes all workers wearing appropriate hearing protection.
To learn more about protecting your hearing while at work or to schedule an appointment with a hearing professional, contact Wilmington Audiology today.