WORK-ZONE SAFETY: Study highlights hearing risk in construction

April 29, 2016

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has found that 16% of construction workers tested had some degree of hearing impairment – second only to mining.

Prevention, early detection, and intervention to preclude additional hearing loss are essential to reducing worker disability caused by hearing impairment, says the research published in CDC’s Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

Industry results highlight the high prevalence of hearing loss within the noise-exposed working population and the need for continued prevention efforts, especially in the mining, construction, and manufacturing sectors, said the researchers. Occupational hearing loss risks have been established within the construction sector; however, current noise regulations do not require audiometric testing for construction workers. Without testing to identify workers losing their hearing, intervention might be delayed or might not occur.

Occupational hearing loss, primarily caused by high noise exposure, is the most common US work-related illness, with approximately 22 million US workers exposed to hazardous occupational noise.

Workers with hearing impairment were represented in all industry sectors. The mining sector had the highest prevalence of workers with any impairment (17%) and with moderate or worse impairment (3%), followed by the construction sector (any impairment = 16%, moderate or worse impairment = 3%), and the manufacturing sector (14% and 2%). 

The final sample included 1,413,789 audiograms for workers employed by 25,908 U.S. companies during 2003–2012. Among 99% of audiograms for which information on the worker’s sex was available, 78% were recorded for males and 22% for females. A greater percentage of males had any hearing impairment (14%) than did females (7%), and the prevalence and severity of impairment increased with age for both sexes. Among all industries, 13% of noise-exposed workers had any impairment and 2% had moderate or worse impairment.

Across all industries, 2.53 “healthy” years were lost annually per 1,000 noise-exposed workers. Workers in the mining and construction sectors lost 3.45 and 3.09 “healthy years” per 1,000 workers, respectively.

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