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.

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

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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