What do you think is the third most chronic physical condition in the U.S.? Back pain? Arthritis? Here’s your hint, and it’s a good one: It is the loss of one of your five senses. And common sense allows you to rule out taste unless you work in a Lutefisk factory (apologies to our Norse readers). According to the CDC the most common work-related illness is hearing loss.
Once you realize how many workers are exposed to excessive noise, hearing loss as a common work-related illness makes complete sense . The CDC states that “Approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous occupational noise.” The top 10 causes for pursuing filing a disability claim does not include hearing loss.
The CDC study ran from 2003 to 2012. It compared the level of impairment in nine categories of industry in the U.S. by testing 1,413,789 noise-exposed workers. Audiograms measured six levels of hearing impairment in the healthier of each person’s two ears. 78 percent male and 22 percent female composed the tested population.
The Study’s Findings
- Males composed a greater percentage of those with hearing impairment at 14 percent.
- Females who suffered hearing impairment registered at seven percent.
- The number of those impaired and the severity of the impairment increased with age for all workers.
- Combining all the study’s industries resulted in a total of 13 percent of workers with impairment; two percent of whom had moderate impairment or worse.
- All industry sectors tested had employees with hearing impairment.
- The mining industry had the greatest number of workers with an impairment, totaling 17 percent.
Quantifying the Work-Related Illness of Hearing Loss
A disability-adjusted life year or DALY is a method the World Health Organization uses to quantify the burden of an illness or disease. Essentially, a single DALY equates to the loss of one year of healthy life. A DALY provides a means to describe the gap between someone’s current health and someone’s ideal health.
All the industries studied lost an average of 2.53 DALYs.
How at Risk of Hearing Loss Are You
The complete list of industry sectors studied and their accompanying percentage of employees within the sector affected by hearing loss follows. There are certain caveats to remember. First, this study does not feature all noise-exposing industries. So lack of your career listing does not equate to immunity from work-related hearing loss. Second, occupational caused hearing impairment can only be inferred due to the absence of medical records and genetic proclivities.
Industries and Percentage of Workers Suffering from Hearing Loss
- Mining, quarrying, oil, and gas: 17 percent
- Construction: 16 percent
- Manufacturing: 14 percent
- Wholesale and retail trade: 13 percent
- Healthcare and social assistance: 13 percent
- Services: 13 percent
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting: 11 percent
- Transportation, warehousing and utilities: eight percent
- Public safety sector: Seven percent
Hearing Loss: An Avoidable Work-Related Illness
Occupational hearing loss is completely preventable. We have the technology today that can prevent it. Hearing loss is non-reversible. It is the most common work-related Illness in the United States. True motivation for employer and employee prevention efforts.
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