Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Is having a disability a barrier to employment, and more specifically, what is the impact of occupational hearing loss in the workplace?

According to a newly released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals with disabilities face significant employment barriers when compared to their non-disabled counterparts. Primary barriers identified include non-inclusive hiring practices, limited training opportunities, poor workplace communication and support, and discrimination.

In the report, the CDC analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), discovering that while 75.8% of noninstitutionalized adults without disabilities were employed, only 38.4% of adults with disabilities held employment.

Hearing Loss in the Workplace

The report also looked closer at how gender, race and education impact hearing impairment rates. For example, men have almost twice the prevalence of hearing issues compared to women, with 3.8% of men experiencing hearing difficulties, compared to only 1.9% of women. Men have historically worked in noisier occupations, so this result is expected.

Racial and ethnic disparities also appear in the data. The hearing disability prevalence is highest among White, non-Hispanic workers at 3.1%, followed by Hispanic or Latino (2.8%), other race or multiracial, non-Hispanic (2.8%), and Black or African American, non-Hispanic (2.0%) workers.

Education level also correlates with hearing disability prevalence. Those with less than a high school education have the highest rate of hearing impairment (4.4%). The rate decreases as the level of education rises, with high school graduates at 3.6%, some college at 3.2%, and college graduates having the lowest prevalence at 1.7%.

Veterans, likely due to exposure to noise during military service, face a significantly higher prevalence of hearing impairment (6.5%) compared to non-veterans (2.7%).

Preventing Hearing Loss

While the CDC’s report focused was on inclusion, it also offered substantial insights into the prevalence of hearing disability across different occupational groups. The highest occurrences were among five occupation groups: installation, maintenance, and repair (4.2%); construction and extraction (3.8%); production (3.5%); protective services (3.5%); and farming, fishing, and forestry (3.5%).

These industries are known to involve exposure to high noise levels due to machinery and work processes, implying a substantial risk for occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Occupational hearing loss is a significant health concern and is often due to sustained exposure to harmful noise levels in the workplace. This form of hearing loss is preventable but, once incurred, is permanent and potentially debilitating.

The data underlines the need for workplace safety measures to prevent and manage noise-induced hearing loss. Effective hearing conservation programs and the consistent use of hearing protection, like earplugs or earmuffs, are essential preventive strategies in these high-risk professions.

Adherence to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations on permissible noise exposure levels and routine hearing tests for employees in these sectors can also contribute significantly to the prevention of occupational hearing loss.

Additionally, workers should be educated on the risks associated with high noise levels and trained in proper use of hearing protective devices and other preventive measures. This proactive approach can help protect workers’ hearing health, and improve overall safety and productivity in these sectors.

Both the level of noise and the length of time you listen to the noise can put you at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. Sounds that are louder than 85 dB, such as a lawn mower, a gunshot blast, or fireworks, can cause permanent hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels also can damage the hearing system.

In many cases, simple over-the-counter earplugs or earmuffs that can be purchased at drugstores, hardware stores, or sports stores may prevent hearing damage. Consider custom earplugs if you are frequently exposed to loud noises on the job. If you are an avid hunter or a musician as well, be sure to talk with an audiologist about these options, including specialized hearing protection devices.

Associated Audiologists assists with preventing hearing loss. Be sure to discuss hearing loss prevention with an audiologist and ask if custom earplugs may be right for you.

Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.