Mining & Construction at Greatest Risk for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

construction worker with hat

16 percent of construction workers test positive for any hearing impairment.

Did you know that hearing loss is a rampant epidemic in the US and the world? 

Despite its prevalence and the consequences of losing one's hearing, a shocking number of people delay treatment until the damage & loss is severe - 90% hearing loss is not uncommon. This is because: 1) it is painless and unobtrusive - unless accompanied by tinnitus and 2) people place very little value on their hearing until it is almost gone. 

Perhaps if it was painful or disfiguring then everyone would know about it and would be doing something to prevent it - hearing protection is not difficult or expensive. The medical establishment doesn't seem to take it seriously. If they did, more than a measly 13 to 16% of doctors*1, *3 would routinely screen for hearing loss, as is currently the case. Instead, they would make at least a basic hearing test part of every visit just like they do temperature, weight and blood pressure. Even congress would try to find some way to help - no really, I have faith.

The catalyst for the recent growth of this epidemic is noise or Noise-Induced Hearing loss (NIHL) and for the scope of this post Occupational Hearing Loss. By definition, Occupational Hearing Loss is caused by loud noise or ototoxic chemicals in the workplace*6. This means loud noises that workers are exposed to for long periods or sudden extreme noise events and substances in the environment like organic solvents, heavy metals and asphyxiants that can cause hearing loss. Either of which is bad enough but combined they can create more damage than either alone.

There should probably be some numbers here to help you see the true scope of this epidemic.

  • The majority (65%) of people with hearing loss are younger than age 65*1
  • 48 million Americans have a significant hearing loss.*3
    • That’s nearly 20% of the population of US adults
  • For a different frame of reference, that’s one of every five people you saw at the grocery store or the mall this week.
  • 14% of those ages 45-64 have some type of hearing loss*3
  • 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem*1
  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss*1
  • More than six million people in the U.S. ages of 18 to 44 are already living with hearing loss*1
  • The incidence of hearing loss in 12 - 19 year olds grew by 30% from 1988 to 2005*5
  • 60 percent of the people with hearing loss are either in the work force or in educational settings.*2
  • Hearing loss is a major public health issue that is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease.*1
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) also caused by NIHL, affects 50 million people in the United States.*3
  • 15 million people in the United States with hearing loss avoid seeking help.*3


And if all of that isn’t scary enough, on average, people wait 10 years after their initial diagnosis to be fit with their first set of hearing aids.*4 Any guesses on what happens to the hearing you still have during those 10 years of waiting? If you guessed that it gets worse and worse – go get a cookie. If you guess that it not only gets worse but does so at an ever more rapid pace – then grab some milk with that cookie and make it a party.

Did you also know that hearing loss reduces your income? While people in the workplace with the mildest hearing losses show little or no drop in income compared to their normal hearing peers, as the hearing loss increases, so does the reduction in compensation.*2

Hearing protection can make all the difference but the effort to wear protection has to be 100%. Obviously, you are not protected on the days, hours or minutes that you forget to wear protection - and if your good fortune is anything like mine, the times that you forget will include the moments with the loudest, most damaging events.

A study spanning a decade and incorporating hearing tests of more than 1.4 million American workers found that construction accounted for the second-highest prevalence of workers with a hearing impairment.

Conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the “Hearing Impairment Among Noise-Exposed Workers” study estimated the prevalence of hearing loss at six levels using hearing tests performed between 2003 and 2012. The study expressed the impact of hearing loss on quality of life as annual disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

The mining sector had the highest prevalence of workers with hearing impairment, followed by the construction and manufacturing sectors. Seventeen percent of mining workers whose hearing tests were included had one of the six levels of impairment, while 3 percent had moderate or worse impairment.

Construction was next with 16 percent of workers testing positive for any impairment and, like mining, 3 percent with moderate or worse.

Manufacturing rounds out the top 3 with 14 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

The CDC estimates that mining and construction workers lost 3.45 and 3.09 healthy years per 1,000 workers, respectively, due to their occupation.

The CDC notes that “current noise regulations do not require audiometric testing for construction workers. Without testing to identify workers losing their hearing, intervention might be delayed or might not occur.” Because of that, the CDC stresses the importance of proper hearing loss prevention through ear plugs and other methods of protection on construction sites.

“…Even mild-to-moderate impairment during working years can culminate in more healthy years lost during retirement,” the study explains. “Prevention also has short-term benefits; persons with even mild hearing loss experience reduced audibility (loudness), reduced dynamic range of hearing (the difference between the softest and loudest perceptible sounds), and increased listening fatigue. They also often experience difficulties understanding speech, especially in the presence of background noise. Other effects include degraded communication (2), cognitive decline, and depression.”

With approximately 22 million U.S. workers exposed to hazardous occupational noise, hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the U.S. and is the most common work related illness among American workers.

Sources:

Construction No. 2 industry for hearing loss, study sayshttp://www.equipmentworld.com/construction-no-2-industry-for-hearing-loss-study-says/  Wayne Grayson - May 17, 2016

*1 http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/prevalence-hearing-loss

*2 http://www.hearingloss.org/content/basic-facts-about-hearing-loss

*3 http://chchearing.org/facts-about-hearing-loss/

*4 https://www.asha.org/articles/untreated-hearing-loss-in-adults/

*5 http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38742752/ns/health-childrens_health/t/us-teens-has-hearing-loss-new-study-says/#.VjOX_LerT0M

*6 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ohl/

Loud noises that workers are exposed to for long periods or sudden extreme noise events and substances in the environment like organic solvents, heavy metals and asphyxiants that can cause hearing loss.