Guidance on work-induced hearing loss

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Tags: workplace safety

There are an estimated 16 million people working in the manufacturing sector, which accounts for approximately 13 percent of the U.S. workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational hearing loss is the most commonly recorded occupational illness in manufacturing (17,700 cases out of 59,100 cases), accounting for 1 in 9 recordable illnesses. More than 72 percent of these occur among workers in manufacturing. These numbers are particularly disturbing considering that a person’s hearing loss must be determined to be work-related and the hearing loss must be severe enough that the worker has become hearing impaired, in order to be OSHA recordable. Many more workers would have measurable occupational hearing loss but would not yet have become hearing impaired.

Although a traumatic noise exposure may cause an immediate hearing loss in some cases, most occupational hearing losses occur so gradually that workers are unaware they are losing their hearing. The rate of hearing loss growth is greatest during the first 10 years of exposure. This means hearing loss prevention is especially important for new workers. However, with continued exposure, the hearing loss spreads into those frequencies most needed to understand speech. This means that preventing occupational hearing loss is also important for workers in their mid and late careers.

Strategic Goal: Hearing Loss Prevention
The NORA Manufacturing Sector Council has developed goals to guide research related to hearing loss prevention in this sector. These goals can be found on the NORA Web site Strategic Goal 4 of the National Manufacturing Agenda. Comments are accepted any time.

How You Can Help
Apply research findings:

  • Publicize proven effective noise control measures
  • Develop and distribute worker and employer education materials specific to the use of engineering controls to reduce noise exposure
  • Develop business cases for adopting interventions
  • Disseminate information regarding risk factors to workers and employers

Share data:

  • Use existing databases to analyze the scope of hearing loss in various settings
  • Develop selection and usage surveillance data on hearing protection devices in manufacturing

Partner with researchers:

  • Identify and inventory sources of exposure resulting in risk of hearing loss
  • Determine the contribution of individual, behavioral, and exposure factors on the development of hearing loss
  • Develop cost effective interventions or engineering controls
  • Conduct research to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions
  • Identify ototoxic factors and develop interventions to reduce exposure
  • Determine the role that impact noise plays in inducing hearing loss

About NORA:
The National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) is a partnership program to stimulate innovative research and improve workplace practices. Unveiled in 1996, NORA has become a framework for guiding Occupational Safety and Health research in the nation. Diverse parties collaborate to identify the most critical issues in the workplace. Partners then work together to develop goals, objectives, and an implementation plan for addressing these issues.

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