October 14, 2021

NIOSH Finds Inconsistent Use of Hearing Protection Among Noise-Exposed Workers

More than 50 percent of workers exposed to noise in 2014 did not wear hearing protection consistently, a study conducted by NIOSH researchers has found. Published earlier this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the study shows that inconsistent use of hearing protection was more prevalent in industries that have fewer noise-exposed workers.

NIOSH researchers analyzed data from more than 39,000 adult workers who responded to the 2007 and 2014 National Health Interview Surveys. Researchers found that 80 percent of noise-exposed workers in the finance and insurance industry, and 83 percent in the healthcare and social assistance industry, reported that they did not always wear hearing protection. These industries are among those with the lowest incidence of occupational noise exposure.

The industry with the greatest proportion of noise-exposed workers who used hearing protection inconsistently was accommodation and food services at 90 percent. Some industries where noise is a well-recognized hazard also had a large proportion of workers who reported inconsistent use of hearing protection—for example, 74 percent of noise-exposed workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, and 52 percent in construction.

The study also found that greater proportions of female workers, young workers, and current smokers did not always wear hearing protection devices compared to other workers. According to coauthor Elizabeth Masterson, a research epidemiologist with NIOSH, the study is the first to find a “significant association” between current smoking and failure to wear hearing protection devices.

The authors call for employers to offer a variety of hearing protection devices to workers and require their use. Further details about the study are available in a NIOSH news release.