NIOSH Study Quantifies "Healthy Years" Lost Due to Hearing Impairment among Workers

Published April 27, 2016

​In a first-of-its-kind study, NIOSH researchers examined the audiograms of more than 1.4 million noise-exposed workers collected by the agency’s Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project to compare the prevalence of hearing impairment across nine industry sectors. The study quantifies the number of disability-adjusted life years—defined as healthy years lost due to a disease or other health condition—attributable to hearing impairment for noise-exposed workers in the U.S.

NIOSH researchers found that hearing impairment caused the annual loss of approximately 2.5 healthy years per 1,000 noise-exposed workers across all industries during 2003–2012. Workers in the mining, construction, and manufacturing industries lost even more healthy years, with miners losing nearly 3.5 years each year for every 1,000 workers, construction workers losing about 3.1 years, and manufacturing workers losing approximately 2.7 healthy years. Public safety workers, including police protection, fire protection, and ambulance services employees, lost 1.3 healthy years per 1,000 workers, the fewest among all workers.

According to the agency, this study is the first to estimate the prevalence of hearing impairment at six severity levels by industry sector. The authors note that hearing loss prevention, early detection, and intervention to avoid additional hearing loss are “critical to preserve worker quality of life.”

“Although lost hearing cannot be recovered, workers can benefit from clinical rehabilitation, which includes fitting hearing aids, learning lip-reading, and adopting other compensation strategies to optimize hearing,” the report reads. “Study results support beginning rehabilitation at a mild level of hearing impairment.”

For more information, see the study in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.