by Brianna Crandall — August 14, 2020 — New research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that a large number of noise-exposed workers within the Services industry sector, the largest sector in US industry, have an elevated risk of hearing loss. The new study was recently published in the International Journal of Audiology.
Workers who are exposed to hazardous noise or chemicals that damage hearing can experience occupational hearing loss. Hazardous noise exposure is also associated with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Hearing loss often co-occurs with tinnitus (“ringing in the ears”) and is associated with depression and cognitive decline.
The Mining, Construction, and Manufacturing sectors are recognized as having high percentages of workers exposed to hazardous noise, and therefore at higher risk of hearing loss. However, researchers identified sub-sectors within the Services sector that were also at higher risk for hearing loss.
The Services sector consists of a wide variety of services, including: newspaper, music and software publishing; renting and leasing; financial transactions; legal advice and representation; overseeing and managing governmental programs; security and surveillance; educational training; entertainment and recreation; accommodations and food service; machinery repairing; dry cleaning and laundry; and landscaping.
Researchers examined audiograms for 1.9 million noise-exposed workers across all industries, including audiograms for 158,436 Services workers. The main findings included:
- The prevalence of hearing loss within Services was 17%, very close to the prevalence of all industries combined (16%).
- However, many sub-sectors greatly exceeded the overall prevalence by large percentages (10-33% higher), and many had high risks for hearing loss.
- Workers in Administration of Urban Planning and Community and Rural Development had the highest prevalence (50%),
- Workers in Solid Waste Combustors and Incinerators had more than double the risk, the highest of any sub-sector.
- Some sub-sectors traditionally viewed as “low-risk” also had higher than expected prevalences and/or risks, such as professional and technical services and schools. For example, Custom Computer Programming Services, and Elementary and Secondary Schools, had prevalences of 35% and 26%, respectively.
Hearing loss prevention
Occupational hearing loss is preventable. For general occupational hearing loss prevention, NIOSH recommends removing or reducing noise at the source using the hierarchy of controls, and when noise cannot be reduced to safe levels, implementing an effective hearing conservation program.
In the Services sector, additional research and surveillance are needed for sub-sectors for which there is low awareness of hearing hazards or a lack of hearing data. It is very important to identify the at-risk workers in these sub-sectors and protect their hearing, with the help of targeted interventions, asserts NIOSH.
The study, “Prevalence of Hearing Loss among Noise-exposed Workers within the Services Sector, 2006–2015,” can be found on the IJA website.
To find out more about NIOSH research and Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention, visit the NIOSH website.
For more information on occupational hearing loss surveillance, including industry sector-specific statistics on hearing loss, tinnitus, noise exposure, and other information, visit the Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance webpage.
NIOSH is the federal institute (under the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.