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Occupational hearing loss

occupational hearing loss, occupational hearing loss compensation
Occupational hearing loss OHL is hearing loss that occurs as a result of occupational hazards OHL, damage to one or both ears from exposures related to one's occupation, is a large but preventable problem Organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH work with employers and workers to reduce or eliminate completely hazards to hearing Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illness in the United States1 Hazards to the hearing of workers include industrial noise, and exposure to various ototoxic chemicals2 These exposures may also interact to cause more damage than either one would by itself Many chemicals have not been tested for ototoxicity, so unknown threats may exist

A 2016 study by NIOSH found that the mining sector had the highest prevalence of hearing impairment at 17%, followed by the construction sector 16% and the manufacturing sector 14% The public safety sector had the lowest rate of hearing impairment, at 7%1

Personal protective equipment, administrative controls, and engineering controls can all work to reduce exposure to noise and chemicals, either by providing the worker with protection such as earplugs, or by reducing the noise at the source or limiting the time or level of exposure


  • 1 Background
  • 2 Causes
    • 21 Noise exposure
    • 22 Ototoxic chemical exposure
  • 3 Prevention
    • 31 Hierarchy of controls
      • 311 Engineering controls
      • 312 Administrative controls
      • 313 Personal protection
    • 32 Other initiatives
  • 4 History
  • 5 References


Occupational hearing loss is defined as damage to either or both ears, at the inner ear or auditory nerve, that results from an exposure in a person's occupation3 Although high levels of noise are the main cause of occupational hearing loss also called noise-induced hearing loss there are also other factors in the work environment that can result in it Chemicals, foreign bodies, vibration, barotrauma, along with other hazards can result in hearing loss These losses that these workers obtain, affect many aspects of their life, mainly social interactions4

Within the United States of America, approximately 10 million people have noise-related hearing loss Over twice that number are occupationally exposed to dangerous noise levels Hearing loss accounted for a sizable percentage of occupational illness in 2007, at 14% of cases5 As in many countries, in the US organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH are working to understand the causes of occupational hearing loss and how it can be prevented They work to produce regulations and guidelines to help protect the hearing of workers in all occupations5


Noise exposureedit

Exposure to noise can cause vibrations able to cause permanent damage to the ear Both the volume of the noise and the duration of exposure can influence the likelihood of damage Sound is measured in units called decibels, which is a logarithmic scale of sound levels that corresponds to the level of loudness that an individual's ear would perceive Because it is a logarithmic scale, even small incremental increases in decibels correlate to large increases in loudness, and an increase in the risk of hearing loss

Sounds above 80 dB have the potential to cause permanent hearing loss The intensity of sound is considered too great and hazardous if someone must yell in order to be heard Ringing in the ears upon leaving work is also indicative of noise that is at a dangerous level Farming, machinery work, and construction are some of the many occupations that put workers at risk of hearing loss

OSHA's current permissible exposure limit PEL for workers is an average of 90 dB over an 8-hour work day They also use a 5 dB exchange rate, where an increase in 5 dB for a sound corresponds to the amount of time workers may be exposed to that particular source of sound being halved For example, workers cannot be exposed to a sound level of 95 dB for more than 4 hours per day, or to sounds at 100 dB for more than 2 hours per day Employers who expose workers to 85 dB or more for 8 hour shifts are required to provide hearing exams and protection, monitor noise levels, and provide training

Sound level meters and dosimeters are two types of devices that are used to measure sound levels in the workplace Dosimeters are typically worn by the employee to measure their own personal sound exposure Other sound level meters can be used to double check dosimeter measurements, or used when dosimeters cannot be worn by the employees They can also be used to evaluate engineering controls aimed at reducing noise levels

Some recent studies suggest that some smart phone applications may be able to measure noise as precisely as a Type 2 SLM67

Ototoxic chemical exposureedit

Chemically-induced hearing loss CIHL is a potential result of occupational exposures Certain chemical compounds may have ototoxic effects Exposure to organic solvents, heavy metals, and asphyxiants such as carbon monoxide can all cause hearing loss89 These chemicals can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin Damage can occur to either the inner ear or the auditory nerve

Both noise and chemical exposures are common in many industries, and can both contribute to hearing loss simultaneously10 Damage may be more likely or more severe if both are present Industries in which combinations of exposures may exist include construction, fiberglass, metal manufacturing, and many more11

Certain medications may also have the potential to cause hearing loss11

It is estimated that over 22 million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels, and 10 million are exposed to solvents that could potentially cause hearing loss every year, with an unknown number exposed to other ototoxic chemicals9


Several methods of prevention exists to eliminate or reduce the hearing loss caused by workplace exposure

Hierarchy of controlsedit

Main article: Hierarchy of hazard control

The hierarchy of controls provides a visual guide to the effectiveness of the various workplace controls set in place to eliminate or reduce exposure to occupational hazards, including noise or ototoxic chemicals The hierarchy includes the following from most effective to least effective:

  • Elimination: complete removal of the hazard
  • Substitution: replacement the offers a smaller risk
  • Engineering controls: physical changes to reduce exposure
  • Administrative controls: changes in work procedures or training
  • Personal protective equipment PPE: individual equipment to reduce exposure, eg earplugs 1213

Engineering controlsedit

Engineering controls is the highest in the hierarchy of risk reduction methods when elimination of the hazard is not possible These types of controls typically involve making changes in equipment or other changes to minimize the level of noise that reaches a worker's ear They may also involve measures such as barriers between the worker and the source of the noise, mufflers, regular maintenance of the machinery, or substituting quieter equipment1415 Examples of noise control strategies adopted in the workplace can be seen among the winners of the Safe-in-Sound Excellence in Hearing Loss Prevention Awards

Administrative controlsedit

Administrative control, behind engineering control, is the next best form of prevention of noise exposure14 They can either reduce the exposure to noise, or reduce the decibel level of the noise itself Limiting the amount of time a worker is allowed to be around an unsafe level of noise exposure, and creating procedures for operation of equipment that could produce harmful levels of noise are both examples of administrative controls15

Personal protectionedit

Main article: Personal protective equipment

Elimination or reduction of the source of noise or chemical exposure is ideal, but when that is not possible or adequate, wearing personal protective equipment PPE such as earplugs or earmuffs can help reduce the risk of hearing loss due to noise exposure PPE should be a last resort and not be used in substitution for engineering or administrative controls It is important that workers are properly trained on the use of PPE to ensure proper protection15

Other initiativesedit

In addition to the hierarchy of controls, other programs have been created to promote the prevention of hearing loss in the workplace For example, the Buy Quiet program was created to encourage the purchase of quieter tools and machinery in the workplace16 Additionally, the Safe-n-Sound Award was created to recognize organizations that excel in preventing occupational hearing loss17


Occupational hearing loss is a very present industrial issue that has been noticed since the Industrial Revolution18 As industrial society continues to grow, this issue is becoming increasingly detrimental due to the exposure of chemicals and physical objects Millions of employees have been affected by occupational hearing loss, especially in industry19 Industrialized countries see most of these damages as they result in both economic and living problems

Within the United States of America alone, 10 of the 28 million people that have experienced hearing loss related to noise exposure Rarely do workers express concerns or complaints regarding Occupational hearing loss In order to gather relevant information, workers who have experienced loud work environments are questioned regarding their hearing abilities during everyday activities When analyzing OHP, it is necessary to consider family history, hobbies, recreational activities, and how they could play a role in a person’s hearing loss In order to test hearing loss, audiometers are used to and are adjusted to American National Standards Institute ANSI regulations The Occupation and Safety Health Association OSHA of the United States of America requires a program that conserves hearing when noise levels are greater than 85 dB This program includes: 1”Monitoring to assess and record noise levels” 2 “Periodic audiometry” 3 “Noise Control” 4 “Education and record keeping”

Occupational hearing loss is very preventable, but currently the interventions to prevent noise-induced hearing loss are complex, having many of the components described above A 2017 Cochrane review20 found that hearing loss prevention programs revealed that stricter legislation might reduce noise levels Earmuffs and earplugs can reduce noise exposure to safe levels, but, instructions are needed on how to put plugs into the ears correctly to achieve potential attenuation Giving workers information on their noise exposure levels by itself was not shown to decrease noise Engineering solutions might lead to similar noise reduction as that provided by hearing protection Better evaluation of the noise exposures resulting from engineering interventions is needed, as most of the available information is limited to observations in laboratory conditions Overall, the effects of hearing loss prevention programs are unclear Better use of hearing protection as part of a program but does not necessarily protect against hearing loss Well implemented prevention programmes, better quality of studies, especially in the field of engineering controls, and better implementation of legislation are needed to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the worplace The 2017 systematic review concluded there is a lack of conclusive evidence but that should not be interpreted as evidence of lack of effectiveness The implications is that further research could affect conclusions reached20


  1. ^ a b "Hearing Impairment Among Noise-Exposed Workers — United States, 2003–2012 | MMWR" wwwcdcgov Retrieved 2016-04-21 
  2. ^ Johnson AC and Morata, TC 2010 "Occupational exposure to chemicals and hearing impairment The Nordic Expert Group for Criteria Documentation of Health Risks from Chemicals" PDF Arbete och Hälsa 44 4: 177 
  3. ^ "Occupational hearing loss: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia" wwwnlmnihgov Retrieved 2016-03-23 
  4. ^ May, J nd "Occupational hearing loss" American Journal of Industrial Medicine: 112–120 
  5. ^ a b "CDC - Facts and Statistics: Noise - NIOSH Workplace Safety & Health" wwwcdcgov Retrieved 2016-03-30 
  6. ^ Kardous, Shaw 2014 "Evaluation of smartphone sound measurement applications" Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 135
  7. ^ Roberts, Kardous, Neitzel 2016 "Improving the accuracy of smart devices to measure noise exposure" Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
  8. ^ EU-OSHA, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work 2009 "Combined exposure to noise and ototoxic substances" Combined exposure to noise and ototoxic substances EU OSHA Retrieved May 3, 2016 
  9. ^ a b "CDC - NIOSH Topic: Occupational Hearing Loss OHL Surveillance" wwwcdcgov Retrieved 2016-03-28 
  10. ^ Campo, Pierre; Morata, Thais C; Hong, OiSaeng "Chemical exposure and hearing loss" Disease-a-Month 59 4: 119–138 PMC 4693596  PMID 23507352 doi:101016/jdisamonth201301003 
  11. ^ a b "Ototoxic chemicals - chemicals that result in hearing loss" Department of Commerce Western Australia Retrieved 2016-03-28 
  12. ^ "Hierarchy of Controls" SA Unions Retrieved July 13, 2016 
  13. ^ "Hierarchy of Controls" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Retrieved July 13, 2016 
  14. ^ a b "NIOSH - Engineering Noise Control - Workplace Safety and Health Topic" wwwcdcgov Retrieved 2016-03-30 
  15. ^ a b c "Noise controls Engineering, Administrative, PPE | Mining Safety & Health Resource Center" miningsharizonaedu Retrieved 2016-03-30 
  16. ^ "Buy Quiet" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Retrieved July 13, 2016 
  17. ^ "Excellence in Hearing Loss Prevention Award" Safe-in-Sound Retrieved July 13, 2016 
  18. ^ Sataloff, R & J 1987 Occupational Hearing Loss New York: Marcel Dekker 
  19. ^ Al-Otaibi, S nd "Occupational Hearing Loss" Saudi Medical Journal 21: 523–530 
  20. ^ a b Tikka, Christina; Verbeek, Jos H; Kateman, Erik; Morata, Thais C; Dreschler, Wouter A; Ferrite, Silvia 2017-07-07 Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews John Wiley & Sons, Ltd ISBN 14651858 Check |isbn= value: length help doi:101002/14651858cd006396pub4 

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