CDC: 25% of Americans Face Health Risks from Noise Exposure at Work

The average person spends nearly a quarter of their time at work, so it makes sense that work environments can have an effect on the health of workers. Most employers do what they can do reduce health hazards in the workplace, but there is one area that is often overlooked. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that many workers are risk due to their noise exposure at work.

In a report published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the CDC found that high blood pressure and high cholesterol are more common among workers exposed to loud noise exposure at work. Researchers at CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also found that a quarter of U.S. workers, an estimated 41 million people, reported a history of noise exposure at work.

High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are key risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women. Loud noise is one of the most common workplace hazards in the United States affecting about 22 million workers each year.

Analyzing data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey, the CDC researchers found a quarter (25 percent) of current workers had a history of work-related noise exposure, with 14 percent reporting being exposed in the last year. As for adverse effects associated noise exposure, 12 percent of current workers had hearing difficulty, 24 percent had high blood pressure and 28 percent had high cholesterol. The researchers estimated that of these cases 58 percent, 14 percent, and 9 percent, respectively, can be attributed to occupational noise exposure.

“A significant percentage of the workers we studied have hearing difficulty, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that could be attributed to noise at work,” said study co-author Liz Masterson, Ph.D, in a press release. “If noise could be reduced to safer levels in the workplace, more than 5 million cases of hearing difficulty among noise-exposed workers could potentially be prevented. This study provides further evidence of an association of occupational noise exposure with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the potential to prevent these conditions if noise is reduced. It is important that workers be screened regularly for these conditions in the workplace or through a healthcare provider, so interventions can occur. As these conditions are more common among noise-exposed workers, they could especially benefit from these screenings.”

Adverse effects due to noise exposure are an issue every business should be concerned about, but there are certain occupations and industries that are at greater risk. According to the CDC report, the industries with the highest prevalence of occupational noise exposure were mining (61 percent), construction (51 percent), and manufacturing (47 percent). As for individual jobs, the occupations with the highest prevalence of occupational noise exposure were production (55 percent); construction and extraction (54 percent); and installation, maintenance, and repair (54 percent).

There are guidelines and regulations regarding noise levels at work. According to the CDC, the “NIOSH establishes Recommended Exposure Limits (REL) for noise based on the best available science and practice. The NIOSH REL for noise is 85 decibels, using the A-weighting frequency response (often written as dBA) over an 8-hour average, usually referred to as Time-Weighted Average (TWA). Exposures at or above this level are considered hazardous”.

To learn more about safe noise levels, devices that can control volumes and more, visit the CDC’s website for a list of helpful resources.  

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