Study Finds 36% of Forestry Workers with Noisy Jobs Suffer Hearing Loss

April 3, 2018

About 15 percent of noise-exposed workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (AFFH) sector experience hearing loss, according to a new NIOSH hearing loss study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

While the 15 percent figure is below that found in other sectors, the prevalence of hearing loss is higher — as high as 36 percent— in particular industries including forestry within the AFFH sector.

Also, the prevalence of hearing loss in the AFFH sector has declined since the 1980s, however, it remains one of the industrial sectors with the highest risk for hearing loss.

“While we found the overall prevalence of hearing loss in the AFFH sector to be less than all industries combined, which is 19 percent, our study shows there are many industries within the sector that have a large number of workers who have or are at high risk for hearing loss,” said Elizabeth Masterson, PhD, epidemiologist and lead author of the study. “Workers in the high-risk industries identified in this study would benefit from continued hearing conservation efforts.”

In what they say is the first study to estimate hearing loss within the AFFH industry sector, NIOSH researchers identified the AFFH industries with the highest number of noise-exposed workers who have hearing loss and an elevated risk of hearing loss:

  • Forest Nurseries and Gathering of Forest Products (36%), which entails growing trees for reforestation or gathering barks, gums, fibers, etc. from trees;
  • Timber Tract Operations (22%), which entails harvesting standing trees to make timber; and
  • Fishing (19%), this study sample comprised workers fishing for finfish such as tuna, salmon, trout, etc.

Additionally, researchers found workers in the aquaculture (fish farms or hatcheries) and logging industries are at higher risk for hearing loss.

“Hazardous noise affects an estimated 22 million workers in the U.S. and hearing loss from this workplace exposure is entirely preventable with the right strategies and technology such as controlling noise to safe levels, protecting employees through the use of personal protective equipment and monitoring workers for changes in their hearing levels,” said Dr. Masterson.

For the study, researchers examined the results of 17,299 hearing tests, or audiograms, from workers employed at 458 companies in the AFFH sector.

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