As many as one-third of workers in some sectors of health care and social service may have hearing loss, according to the researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) who studied audiograms from hundreds of US companies. Theirs is the first known study to estimate and compare the prevalence of noise-exposed worker hearing loss by subsector within the Health Care and Social Assistance (HSA) sector.
Some subsectors had higher than expected prevalence of hearing loss for an industry that has had assumed “low exposure” to noise, NIOSH says. Most of the HSA subsector prevalence estimates ranged from 14% to 18%, but the Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories subsector had 31% prevalence, the Offices of All Other Miscellaneous Health Practitioners had 24% prevalence, and Child Day Care Services had a 52% higher risk compared with that of the reference industry.
NIOSH says successful noise reduction measures have been documented in hospital settings. Exposure to chemotherapy drugs can be better prevented and laboratories can be modified to reduce the level of noise. When noise can’t be removed or reduced to safe levels, NIOSH recommends implementing an effective hearing conservation program.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the US, NIOSH says. But Elizabeth Masterson, PhD, epidemiologist and lead author of the study, says, “Occupational hearing loss is entirely preventable.”