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Noisy workplaces contribute to employee hearing loss

Posted On: Feb. 9, 2016 12:00 AM CST

Nearly one-fourth of U.S. workers who were exposed to noise on the job experienced difficulty hearing, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States, affecting about 22 million people, NIOSH said in a statement last week.

Workers in industry sectors like agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting and manufacturing had significantly higher risks of hearing difficulty, according to the study, which was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in late January.

On the other hand, workers in sales and related occupations had significantly lower risks of hearing difficulty, the study found.

Tinnitus, which often occurs in addition to hearing loss, is the perception of sound in one or both ears, or in the head, when there's no other source of sound, NIOSH said in the statement.

While 23% of U.S. workers who were at some point exposed to noise on the job experienced hearing difficulty, 15% had tinnitus and 9% had both conditions, according to the study. Meanwhile, 7% of U.S. workers who were never exposed to occupational noise experienced hearing difficulty, 5% had tinnitus and 2% had both.

“Hearing loss can greatly impact a worker's overall health and well-being,” NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said in the statement. “Hazardous levels of occupational noise exposure and environmental noise exposure both need to be avoided.”

An estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers comp for hearing loss disability, according to NIOSH, which says prevention includes noise exposure monitoring and the use of hearing protection devices.

The study was created using data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey.