August 6, 2020

NIOSH Study Finds Elevated Risk of Hearing Loss in Services Industry Subsectors

A new study from NIOSH finds that many noise-exposed workers in the services industry sector face an elevated risk of hearing loss. The services sector is the largest in U.S. industry and includes subsectors such as music and software publishing, financial transactions, entertainment and recreation, and machinery repair. According to NIOSH, higher risk of hearing loss is often associated with mining, construction, and manufacturing. But the agency’s new study shows that services workers in certain subsectors—for example, those whose jobs involve operating solid waste combustors and incinerators—are also at increased risk of hearing loss.

NIOSH researchers examined audiograms for 1.9 million noised-exposed workers across all industries, including those for 158,436 services workers. While the prevalence of hearing loss within the services sector was 17 percent, close to the 16-percent prevalence of all industries combined, researchers found that many services subsectors “greatly exceeded the overall prevalence by large percentages”—some by as much as 33 percent. NIOSH found the highest prevalence of hearing loss, 50 percent, among workers in administration of urban planning and community and rural development. Researchers also identified higher-than-expected prevalence and risks in subsectors such as professional and technical services and schools, which are traditionally viewed as lower risk.

NIOSH’s press release about the study calls for additional research and surveillance for services subsectors for which there is a lack of hearing data. According to the agency, further studies should also focus on subsectors in which awareness of hearing hazards is low.

The full study was recently published in the International Journal of Audiology. More information about NIOSH research on hearing loss can be found on the agency’s website. Information on occupational hearing loss surveillance is also available.