Safety Update



Can You Please Speak Up?

Friday, February 01, 2013

More than half of factory workers who believe they have “excellent” or “good” hearing actually have suffered hearing loss, and do not recognize the problem. This according to a new study from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, which finds significant differences between measured and perceived hearing loss. The study’s authors suggest that healthcare providers need to use better methods of testing and protecting hearing among factory workers.

“This finding shows that even workers who are served by a workplace hearing-conservation program and who receive annual hearing testing may be unaware of their actual hearing ability,” says Marjorie McCullagh, assistant professor in the UM School of nursing and principal investigator. “Consequently, healthcare providers would be wise to examine methods to help workers develop more accurate perceptions of their hearing, and test more effective methods to protect it.”

Of 2691 noise-exposed automobile factory workers surveyed for the study, 76 percent reported excellent or good hearing. However, after formal hearing tests, researchers found that 42 percent of those workers actually had suffered hearing loss. This indicates that self-reported hearing loss is poorly related to the results of audiometry, or formal hearing testing.  In other words, many factory workers might have hearing loss and not even realize there’s a problem. The UM findings are consistent with other studies demonstrating a discrepancy between measured and perceived hearing loss, says McCullagh.

In the UM Nursing study, hearing loss was highly prevalent among the workers despite a regulated work environment and a hearing-conservation program. Noise represents one of the nation’s most common occupational health hazards.

The data was collected as part of an intervention study promoting hearing-protector use among workers at a Midwest automotive factory.


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