NIOSH Study Highlights Hearing Loss Among Ag, Forestry, Fishing Workers

When researchers examined the industries, they found as many as 36 percent of noise-exposed workers have hearing loss. They also found workers in the aquaculture and logging industries to be at higher risk for hearing loss. This group remains one of the industrial sectors with the highest hearing loss risk.

According to a new NIOSH study, the prevalence of hearing loss among noise-exposed workers in the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting (AFFH) sector is 15 percent. The study is the first to estimate hearing loss prevalence and risk for sub-sectors within this industry sector.

When researchers examined industries within the AFFH sector, they found as many as 36 percent of noise-exposed workers have hearing loss. They also found workers in the aquaculture and logging industries to be at higher risk for hearing loss. The prevalence of hearing loss in the sector has declined since the 1980s, but it remains one of the industrial sectors with the highest hearing loss risk.

The AFFH sector industries with the highest number of noise-exposed workers with hearing loss and an elevated risk of hearing loss include:

  • Forest nurseries and gathering of forest products (36%), which entails growing trees for reforestation or gathering barks, gums, fibers, etc. from trees;
  • Timber tract operations (22%), which entails harvesting standing trees to make timber; and
  • Fishing (19%), this study sample comprised workers fishing for finfish such as tuna, salmon, trout, etc.

"While we found the overall prevalence of hearing loss in the AFFH sector to be less than all industries combined, which is 19 percent, our study shows there are many industries within the sector that have a large number of workers who have or are at high risk for hearing loss," said Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, epidemiologist and lead author of the study. "Workers in the high-risk industries identified in this study would benefit from continued hearing conservation efforts."

For the study, researchers examined the results of 17,299 hearing tests from workers employed at 458 companies in the AFFH sector. The hearing tests for noise-exposed workers were conducted by certified technicians between the years 2003 and 2012 and results were shared the results with the NIOSH Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project.

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