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What industries cause the greatest amount of hearing loss?

Hearing loss is one of the hidden health costs of the modern workforce. While musculoskeletal injuries frequently grab headlines in terms of media coverage, hearing loss is a far more insidious problem that is often overlooked by both management and workers alike. The simple fact is that exposure to loud sounds above a certain threshold for extended periods of time will result in permanent hearing damage from which there is no recovery.

Distribution and number of permanent hearing loss cases
Distribution and number of permanent hearing loss cases reported by clinicians in Michigan, by industry, 20001.

According the NIOSH Worker Health Chartbook, the majority of permanent hearing loss disabilities suffered in the workplace are found in manufacturing. Construction follows in second place. According to OSHA, it is not acceptable for workers to be exposed to noise that is more than 85 decibels over the course of an 8 hour shift2. Given that both the construction and manufacturing industries routinely expose workers to machinery and equipment which produces upwards of 90 decibels of noise, it is no surprise that their incidence of hearing loss is so high.

In order to avoid permanent damage to the ears, it is necessary to limit the amount of time one is exposed to loud noise. If this is impossible, then hearing protection in the form of ear plugs or over the ear noise blocking headsets is required. Ideally, a combination of both of these methods will provide the ultimate level of insulation against heavy industrial sounds. Another possible step is to install noise shields around equipment or insulate control areas where workers congregate in order to provide a degree of muffling when equipment is in operation. This is a step most motorized vehicles are required to take by law, and the effectiveness of this legislation in preventing hearing loss is reflected in the statistics from the transportation industry.

1NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid73.htm
2National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 2002, Hearing Conservation. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3074/osha3074.html

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