Hearing loss widespread among construction workers

The workday of a construction worker is characterized by hard work and loud noise. As many as 95 percent of construction workers are exposed to high levels of noise on a daily basis.

According to a Canadian study including 400 workers aged 38-65 years one in two boilermakers, shipbuilders and blacksmiths suffer from hearing loss, making them the group most at risk among construction workers. Among plumbers and pipe fitters, more than one in three (38 percent) suffer from work related hearing loss.

Swedish construction workers are no exception. According to Swedish data, more and more people working in construction report hearing loss caused by noise. From 1997 to 2001, the number of reported incidents of hearing loss increased from 115 per 1.000 to 177, a 36 percent increase in just four years.

The Swedish construction industry's work environment council points out that the noise level at construction sites has increased because of heavier reliance on machines and power tools and faster completion of projects. Tighter time schedules demand that several tasks are performed simultaneously, exposing the workers to more sources of noise at a time.

Need for hearing protection

The high frequency of hearing loss among construction workers illustrates the dire need for consistent and conscientious use of hearing protection. According to the Canadian study, the hearing ability of workers using hearing protection is likely to be better over time than the hearing ability of their colleagues who do not protect their hearing. Among those at high risk, many have decided to do something about it. Somewhere between 72 percent and 88 percent of them always or usually wear hearing protection.

In addition to hearing loss, noise in the workplace also is the cause of ringing or buzzing in the ears of 30-40 percent of the Canadian construction workers at the end of the workday.

Source: Hearing Loss Among Construction Workers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, vol. 42, no. 1, 2002 and Auris, Tidsskrift for hörselskadade no. 2, 2003.

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