Work-related hearing loss continues to be a critical workplace
safety and health issue. The National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the occupational safety and
health community named hearing loss one of the 21 priority
areas for research in the next century. Noise-induced hearing
loss is 100 percent preventable but once acquired, hearing
loss is permanent and irreversible. Therefore, prevention
measures must be taken by employers and workers to ensure
the protection of workers' hearing.
Approximately 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous
noise on the job and an additional nine million are at risk
for hearing loss from other agents such as solvents and metals.
Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational
diseases and the second most self-reported occupational illness
or injury. Industry specific studies reveal:
- 44% of carpenters and 48% of plumbers reported that they
have perceived hearing loss.
- 49% of male, metal, non-metal miners will have a hearing
impairment by age 50 (vs. 9% of the general population)
rising to 70% by age 60.
While any worker can be at risk for noise-induced hearing
loss in the workplace, workers in many industries have higher
exposures to dangerous levels of noise. Industries with high
numbers of exposed workers include: agriculture; mining; construction;
manufacturing and utilities; transportation; and military.
There is no national surveillance or injury reporting system
for hearing loss. As such, comprehensive data on the economic
impact of hearing loss are not available. The following localized
examples provide an indication of the broader economic burden.
In Washington State, workers' compensation disability settlements
for hearing-related conditions cost $4.8 million in 1991 (not
including medical costs). When applied to the national workforce,
occupational hearing loss costs an estimated $242.4 million
per year in disability alone.
This figure does not include medical costs or personal costs
which can include approximately $1500 for a hearing aid and
around $300 per year for batteries. Moreover, workers' compensation
data is an underestimate of the true frequency of occupational
illness, representing only the tip of the iceberg.
In British Columbia, in the five-year period from 1994 to
1998, the workers' compensation board paid $18 million in
permanent disability awards to 3,207 workers suffering from
hearing loss. An additional $36 million was paid out for hearing
Through their hearing conservation program, the U.S. Army
saved about $504.3 million by reducing hearing loss among
combat arms personnel between 1974 and 1994. The Department
of Veterans saved $220.8 million and the Army and additional
$149 million by reducing civilian hearing loss between 1987
Removing hazardous noise from the workplace through engineering
controls (e.g. installing a muffler or building an acoustic
barrier) is the most effective way to prevent noise-induced
hearing loss. Hearing protectors such as ear plugs and ear
muffs should be used when it is not feasible to otherwise
reduce noise to a safe level. NIOSH recommends hearing loss
prevention programs for all workplaces with hazardous levels
of noise. These programs should include noise assessments,
engineering controls, audiometric monitoring of workers' hearing,
appropriate use of hearing protectors, worker education, recordkeeping,
and program evaluation.
Work Related Hearing Loss
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-103
237 KB (2 pages)