Occupational Hearing Loss Is Both Common and Preventable

A new study notes that workers in the mining and oil and gas industries are more likely to have hearing loss as a result of improper protection.

A recent study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine is the first to examine hearing loss prevalence by industry within the Oil and Gas Extraction sector and most Mining sector industries. Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that within these industries, 25 to 30 percent of workers, almost 1 in 3, had hearing loss.

“This study highlights the large proportions of workers with hearing loss and identifies the industries within these sectors that are most affected,” said Elizabeth Masterson, PhD, epidemiologist and co-author of the study. “Occupational hearing loss is entirely preventable and knowing which workers are at greatest risk can help better tailor strategies to protect their hearing.”

The study analyzed data from a wide array of individuals and sectors: 1.9 million noise-exposed workers across all industries, including 9,389 in Mining and 1,076 in Oil and Gas Extraction. Key findings include:

Mining Sector

  • 24% of workers exposed to noise had hearing loss.
  • The following industries showed the highest number of workers with hearing loss: Construction Sand and Gravel Mining (36%), Uranium-Radium-Vanadium Ore Mining (31%), Bituminous Coal and Lignite Surface Mining (28%), Iron Ore Mining (27%), and Nickel Ore Mining (24%).
  • Noise-exposed workers in Support Activities for Coal Mining and in Gold Ore Mining had double the risk and 71% higher risk of hearing loss, respectively, than noise-exposed workers in Couriers and Messengers, a low-prevalence comparison industry.

Oil and Gas Extraction Sector

  • 14% of workers exposed to noise had hearing loss.
  • Within the sector of Natural Gas Liquid Extraction, 28% of noise-exposed workers had hearing loss and a 76% higher risk of hearing loss than noise-exposed workers in Couriers and Messengers, a low-prevalence comparison industry.
  • More data is needed about two of the largest industries (Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas Extraction; Drilling Oil and Gas Wells).

The study’s results indicate that noise exposure is the primary risk factor for occupational hearing loss. Almost two thirds of all mining and oil and gas extraction workers have been exposed to hazardous noise on the job. NIOSH research suggests noise (as well as chemical) exposure could also contribute to other health issues including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.

Employers and workers can prevent and minimize the risk of occupational hearing loss despite these high numbers. NIOSH recommends removing or reducing noise at the source when possible. When the noise cannot be reduced to safe levels, implement an effective hearing conservation program. Preventative measures can include engineering controls (that have proven successful in reducing equipment noise in Mining), rotating workers out of loud areas and from noise tasks to decrease exposure time, and even using of earplugs in appropriate situations.

For more information about noise and hearing loss prevention research at NIOSH, visit https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/.

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