Hearing management

Updated 14 December 2017

Loud noise may increase risk for workplace injuries

Noise induced hearing loss is a public health issue and in the USA, up to 30 million workers are exposed to noise.

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Extremely loud noise on the job, as well as hearing loss from noise exposure, may cause workers to miss danger warnings, a Canadian study suggests.

They found that workers regularly exposed to noise levels of 100 decibels – about the volume standing next to a lawnmower – had more than doubled risk of being hospitalised for a workplace injury. Workers with hearing loss were also more likely to be seriously hurt.

"Noise induced hearing loss is a public health issue – in the USA, up to 30 million workers are exposed to noise and in Quebec this number is estimated to be 400 000," Serge-Andre Girard told Reuters Health by email.

Read: Modern life is noisy and can damage hearing

Noise-induced hearing loss

Girard, who led the new study, is a researcher with the National Public Health Institute of Quebec in Quebec City. "Despite considerable energy devoted to the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss, it remains a significant problem," Girard said.

"From an occupational safety perspective, work-related injuries remain an important issue that generates significant costs for businesses, workers and compensation organisations.

"The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that companies undergo prevention programmes for all workplaces with hazardous levels of noise, including noise assessments, noise control, monitoring of workers' hearing, appropriate use of hearing protectors and worker education about protecting themselves from noise

Girard said that exposure to high noise levels increases fatigue, decreases the ability to concentrate and impairs the quality of communication between workers. Both noise and noise-induced hearing loss could be involved in the occurrence of accidents, he added.

Girard and his colleagues looked at records for 46 550 male workers over nearly 20 years, and found that 1,670 had been hospitalised for work-related injuries within 5 years of being given hearing tests.

Risk of hospitalisation

The researchers compared the number of injuries to workers' levels of hearing loss indicated by the tests and their exposure to loud noises in the workplace.

Read: Workplace noise doubles heart risk

They found that for every decibel of hearing loss, the risk of hospitalisation due to work-related injury increased by 1%.

The researchers also found that workers exposed to noise levels above 100 decibels had 2.4 times the risk of being hospitalized for work-related injuries compared to workers not exposed to loud noise.

In their report in the journal Injury Prevention, Girard's team estimates that for workers with the combination of severe hearing loss and working in an environment where noise exposure is overly intense the risk of being hospitalized with a work-related injury is 3.6 times that of workers with neither factor.

"Companies have always had a reason to control noise to protect the workers' hearing but this kind of evidence gives companies and workplaces another major reason to control noise, which is to make the workplace safer as well," Dr Peter Rabinowitz told Reuters Health.


Read more:
Noise is a pollutant too
Noise hurts men's hearing more


 

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Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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