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Study finds elevated prevalence, risk of hearing loss in many service industry subsectors

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Washington — “Large numbers” of workers in the service industry “have an elevated risk of hearing loss and need immediate hearing conservation efforts,” NIOSH researchers say in a recent study.

The researchers analyzed the results of 1.9 million audiograms of workers who were exposed to occupational noise from 2006 to 2015, including audiograms of more than 158,000 workers employed in the service sector. Although the prevalence of hearing loss in all industries combined (16%) was similar to the overall frequency within the services industry (17%), results show numerous subsectors of the service industry “greatly exceeded the overall prevalence” by 10 to 33 percentage points, and many had high risks for hearing loss.

Among the findings:

  • At 50%, workers in administration of urban planning and community and rural development had the highest occurrence of hearing loss.
  • Workers in the solid waste combustors and incinerators industry had more than double the risk of hearing loss – the highest among all subsectors.
  • The prevalence of hearing loss among subsectors traditionally considered “low risk” were higher than average for some, including custom computer programming services (35%) and elementary and secondary schools (26%).

“Additional research and surveillance are needed for subsectors for which there is low awareness of hearing hazards or a lack of hearing data,” the study states.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year. Occupational hearing loss affects about 12% of the working population, and around 24% of hearing impairment cases among workers are related to occupational noise exposure, NIOSH says.

The study was published online July 1 in the International Journal of Audiology.

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