U-M Study Shows That Construction Workers Often Work Without Hearing Protection, Thus Unnecessarily Damaging Their Hearing

April 17, 1998

EDITORS: April 29 is national Anti-Noise Day

ANN ARBOR---A study by a University of Michigan nursing professor shows that construction workers are dashing off to work without properly protecting their hearing, thus unnecessarily placing their hearing at risk.

Their work by nature is hard on the hearing. Continuous exposure to buzzing power saws, bulldozers, nail guns and other tools of the trade has resulted in hearing loss among some construction workers---a group, which until now, hasn't been the focus of research in hearing loss.

"We know that general noise in the construction industry is hazardous to hearing. We know it's a high enough noise level that it is harmful and will have an impact on hearing," said Prof. Sally L. Lusk. She is the nation's eminent nurse researcher in occupational health specializing in the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.

Lusk was recently awarded the 1998 Midwest Nursing Research Society Distinguished Contributor to Research in the Midwest Award for her body of work in research which spans 14 years. It is one of the most prestigious awards granted to nurses in research.

Her recent study on noise-induced hearing loss among construction workers, which will appear in the July issue of American Association of Industrial Hygiene Journal, specifically focussed on operating engineers, carpenters, plumbers and pipefitters in the Midwest. The workers were asked if they used hearing protection devices, such as ear plugs or ear muffs, and they were asked to assess their perception of noise exposure and hearing loss.

Of those surveyed, workers said they wear ear plugs or ear muffs 36 percent to 61 percent of the time they should be worn. Between 55 percent to 76 percent of the members of these three trade groups reported they believed they developed a hearing loss.

"There is a need for significant improvement in all three trade groups' use of hearing protection. The results also suggest a need in designing hearing conservation programs,'' Lusk said.

Hearing protection devices are known to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and stress, another risk factor of hazardous noise. Previous studies by Lusk have linked hazardous noise in the workplace to cardiovascular and stress related diseases.

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires Comprehensive Hearing Conservation Programs for factory workers, OSHA does not have similar program requirements for construction workers. Thus, the decision of whether to wear ear plugs or ear muffs is often left up to individual workers.

Lusk has developed a hearing protection training manual for the occupational health representatives of construction companies. The manual is designed to train these representatives how to teach their workers about the importance of hearing protection. It also includes a videotape with step-by-step instructions of how to properly insert different types of ear plugs.

Her research program was the first to address the factors influencing workers' use of hearing protection devices to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. This seminal work served as a basis for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's more recent focus on workers perspectives.

Lusk points out:

--We live in a world that is increasingly getting louder. Mega stereo systems, advanced technology, more people---all contribute to making the world we live in a louder place.

--Noise is the most common hazard for American workers.

--Hearing loss from noise is slow and painless; you can have a disability before you notice it.

--Hazardous noise is also found off the job from things like power tools, guns, lawn mowers and snowmobiles.

--Occupational hearing loss is one of the 10 leading work-related disorders in the United States. Costs associated with occupational hearing loss reach into the millions of dollars annually.

University of Michigan

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