NIOSH study reveals inconsistencies in hearing protection use

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Washington, D.C.

A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study published this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine suggests that more than half of noise-exposed workers responding to past National Health Interview Surveys didn’t use hearing protection “always” or “usually” when exposed to hazardous occupational noise. Hearing protection device (HPD) non-use was only measured in workers who reported exposure to noise on the job.  

NIOSH estimates that 22 million employees in the United States face exposure to hazardous noise at work. Its new study looks at 39,508 adult workers from the 2007 and 2014 National Health surveys, which asked participants about their HPD use and occupational noise exposure within the past year. Of those surveyed, 2,057 reported exposure to occupational noise during the previous 12 months in 2007 and 3,380 in 2014. The prevalence of HPD non-use did not change significantly between the two years. Some industries where noise is a well-recognized hazard were found to have high tendencies of HPD non-use, including Construction (52 percent) and Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting (74 percent). Among all workers exposed to noise in 2014, researchers found the majority (53 percent) did not wear hearing protection consistently. Additionally, researchers observed higher prevalence of HPD non-use among female workers, young workers (aged 18-25) and current smokers.

“Our findings regarding HPD non-use by gender and age group are consistent with previous studies,” says Elizabeth Masterson, PhD, research epidemiologist and study co-author. “However, no prior relationship between smoking and HPD non-use has been reported. Our study was the first to find a significant association between current smoking and HPD non-use.”

“The prevalence of HPD non-use remains high,” she adds. “Increasing worker awareness and providing training about the importance of proper and consistent use of HPDs can protect workers from the effects of hazardous noise. In addition, we need to overcome barriers to HPD use by ensuring that workers have devices that are comfortable and do not overprotect from noise so they can hear speech and other important workplace signals.”

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