Hearing loss Health Care Workers Health care/social assistance Research/studies Workplace exposures

Hearing loss higher than expected in some health care and social assistance subsectors: NIOSH

Photo: MarkCoffeyPhoto/iStockphoto

Washington — Workers in certain subsectors of the health care and social assistance industry experience hearing loss at a rate higher than expected “for an industry that has had assumed ‘low-exposure’ to noise,” according to a recent study from NIOSH.

Researchers analyzed hearing tests for 1.4 million workers, of whom 8,702 worked in the health care and social assistance sector, from 2003 through 2012. Findings showed that all subsectors of HSA except hospitals posted higher risks of hearing loss than the reference industry used in the study. Child day care services, ambulatory and health care services, offices of other health practitioners, community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services were among those subsectors with the highest risk.

NIOSH researchers cited a previous study that determined sources of noise in HSA environments include orthopedic instruments such as cast cutters and dental instruments. Another study concluded that noise levels in a hospital emergency room reached peak levels in excess of 85 dBA occurring at least once per minute from monitor alarms, overhead speakers and slamming doors. High noise levels also were reported in operating rooms, hospital kitchens, intensive care units, hospital laundry facilities and around helicopter emergency medical crews.

NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit for noise is a time-weighted average of 85 decibels over an 8-hour period.

NIOSH researchers pointed to successful noise reduction practices used in some hospitals, including lowering volumes on alerting bells and phones, using floor mats, and modifying equipment.

“OSHA also recommends using acoustical treatment on laboratory walls and ceilings, moving as much noise-producing equipment as possible out of the lab and into equipment rooms, and situating remotely the compressors for temperature-controlled rooms,” the researchers wrote.

However, loud noise is not the only potential contributor to hearing loss. Some drugs – including anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, antimalarial and antirheumatic drugs – are classified as ototoxic, meaning exposure to them can elevate workers’ risk for hearing damage.

“Exposure to chemotherapy drugs can be better prevented by using closed-system transfer devices for administering drugs, using double gloves and single-use gowns, improving awareness of risks among staff, and fostering a ‘blame-free’ environment for reporting spills,” the researchers wrote, citing other studies.

The study was published online Feb. 26 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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