Is work-related hearing loss a major problem?
In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition after high blood pressure and arthritis. It is more common than diabetes, vision trouble, or cancer. Not surprisingly, hearing loss is among the most common work-related illnesses. Over 11% of the working population has hearing difficulty, and nearly one out of four cases of worker hearing difficulty are caused by work-related exposures. These exposures include loud noise and chemicals causing damage to the inner ear (ototoxic chemicals). Ototoxic chemicals include organic solvents like trichloroethylene, heavy metals like mercury and lead, and asphyxiants like carbon monoxide.
Noise is considered loud and potentially harmful (hazardous) when it reaches 85 decibels or higher, or if a person has to raise his/her voice to speak with someone 3 feet away (arm’s length).
Did you know that within every industry sector, there are workers at risk for work-related hearing loss? Work-related hearing loss is common and preventable. Learn more about hearing loss within your industry and how to prevent it.
Which workers are at risk?
In the U.S. workplace:
There are workers in every industry sector that are exposed to noise or chemicals that can damage hearing or both.
Among all noise-exposed workers, 19% have hearing impairment. Hearing impairment is hearing loss that impacts day-to-day activities, such as making it difficult to understand speech. However, some industry sectors such as Mining and Construction have even higher percentages of workers with hearing impairment.
Learn more about worker hearing loss and noise exposure within your industry sector, including trends in hearing loss over time on the NIOSH Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance topic page under NIOSH OHL Statistics.
Why is prevention important?
Fortunately, with today’s hearing loss prevention strategies and technologies, work-related hearing loss can be entirely prevented.
What can workers do to prevent
work-related hearing loss?
Is work-related hearing loss a major problem?
Noise is everywhere, but how loud does it need to be to cause harm? While many people know that loud noise can hurt their ears, they don’t know how loud is too loud or how long they can listen before it becomes harmful.
Noise around 85 decibels (dBA)
loud enough that you must raise your voice to be heard by someone three feet away (arm’s length)
Can damage your hearing after repeated exposures lasting 8 hours or more. Equipment, like printing presses and lawn mowers, and activities like vacuuming, or using earbuds or headphones with the volume set around 70%, all average about 85-90 dBA
When noise reaches 95 dBA
loud enough that you must shout to be heard by
someone at arm’s length
It can put your hearing at risk in less than an hour. Bulldozers, ambulance sirens, chain saws, bars/nightclubs and large sporting events are all louder than 95 dBA
In addition to damaging hearing,
loud noise can cause other physical stress as well as mental stress
Often the short-term effects of such stress go unnoticed or are blamed on other things. These symptoms can range from feeling tired and/or irritable to having temporarily high blood pressure or muffled hearing. Over time, with repeated exposure to loud noise, more lasting conditions can develop, such as hearing loss (a permanent condition), and it is unknown if these exposures may also lead to more lasting cardiovascular conditions, such as high blood pressure.
Not only does noise cause hearing loss, there is new research exploring whether noise can also contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. Recently, a new NIOSH study, titled “Cardiovascular Conditions, Hearing Difficulty, and Occupational Noise Exposure within U.S. Industries and Occupations,” looked into the relationship between loud noise at work and conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hearing difficulty. This study found:
Fortunately, workplace noise exposure faces reduction and occupational hearing loss entirely prevented with today’s hearing loss prevention strategies and technology. This NIOSH study also highlighted the importance of workers getting screened regularly for hearing loss, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and the benefits of workplace health and wellness programs. These programs generate a substantial return on investment by reducing losses in productivity from disease progression and boosting morale. Workers exposed to loud noise may especially benefit from these programs.