From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Noise Is Still a Significant Workplace Issue

A United States survey of 9,275 working adults conducted between 1999 and 2004 revealed that 15.8 percent (1,462) reported being exposed to hazardous workplace noise – nearly 1 out of 17 employees. Of that group, 34.3 percent never used hearing protective devices (HPDs), statistically implying that nearly 7.7 million US workers are potentially exposed to noise that could damage hearing.

Industries that had the highest employee report of noise exposure prevalence were:
1) Mining (75.8 percent)
2) Lumber and wood product manufacturing (55.4 percent)
3) Rubber, plastics, and leather products (48.0 percent)
4) Utilities (46.1 percent)
5) Repair and maintenance (45.1 percent)

Of industries with overall high noise prevalence, employees in the cleaning/building service occupations reported the highest non-use of HPDs (63 percent). Among industries with overall low noise prevalence, non-use of HPDs at times of hazardous workplace noise occurred most frequently with the following work groups:
• Personal service occupations (80 percent)
• Textile, apparel, and furnishing machine operators (78 percent)
• Technicians and related support occupations (71 percent)

Several other professions exposed to noise who report not using HPDs include:
• Cooks (66 percent)
• Supervisors/proprietors/sales occupations (52 percent)
• Teachers (51 percent)
• Waiters (41 percent)

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists

Despite a well known and detailed 1983 OSHA Occupational Noise Exposure standard (1910.95), US workers self report relatively poor compliance. Ergonomists should be aware of industries that have a high prevalence of workplace noise  (i.e., mining and lumber/wood product manufacturing) and sensitive to professions that have low noise exposure but poor use of HPDs (personal service occupations – healthcare and social services).

Other Key Points

The national average noise exposure prevalence was 17.2 percent. In the survey, noise was defined as background sound that was so loud that the employee had to raise their voice to be heard (the need to raise the voice to be heard usually occurs when the background noise level exceeds 85 dbA).

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NHANES, began in 1999 and is administered by the National Center for Health Statistics as a tool to evaluate the health and nutritional status of US adults and children. 

Those groups with a higher prevalence of noise exposure included:
• Males (26.3 percent) compared to females (6.7 percent)
• Those 35 to 44 years of age (19.7 percent)
• Non-Hispanic whites (18.3 percent)
• Workers with less than 16 years of education (22.6 percent)  

This paper can be acquired at:

Article Title: Exposure to Hazardous Workplace Noise and Use of Hearing Protection Devices Among US Workers – NHANES, 1999-2004

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 52:358-371, 2009

Authors: S W Tak, R R Davis, and G M Calvert

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-04-22.