Hearing Loss and Occupational Injuries

Last update on Jun, 06, 2018

Companies should make sure their employees are hearing as clearly as possible, based on new research linking hearing loss with an elevated risk of accidents. A nationwide survey, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that people who reported difficulty hearing were significantly more likely to experience an accident related to driving, work, leisure activities or sports, compared to individuals with “excellent” hearing.

The risk of accident and injury increased with the severity of the hearing loss, ranging from 60% higher for people who reported “a little trouble” hearing to 90% higher for those who said they had “a lot of trouble” hearing.

These findings are consistent with previous research, conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, that linked hearing loss with an elevated risk of injury-causing falls. In their study of 2,017 individuals ages 40 to 69, Johns Hopkins researchers found that a 25-decibel hearing loss (classified as mild) was associated with a three-fold higher risk of falling. Every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold.

Potential links between hearing loss and work-related injuries

These studies don’t identify the reasons why hearing loss may lead to more accidents or falls. In the case of hearing loss and falls, experts speculate that hearing impaired individuals may have reduced “environmental awareness” (what’s going on around them) or less “spatial awareness” (relationship to other people or objects around them). “Cognitive overload” may be another factor — the brain is devoting excessive mental resources to hearing, at the expense of maintaining balance.

"Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding," explains Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. Johns Hopkins lead researcher.

Can timely intervention and treatment help hearing impaired individuals avoid accidents and falls? Researchers are trying to answer this question, but the evidence definitely suggests as much.

“Increased awareness about hearing difficulty and its proper screening and management may assist in decreasing accidental injury,” conclude the authors of the CDC study. In addition, a study conducted at Washington University of St. Louis indicated that amplification helped test participants with maintaining balance.

For companies today, workplace injuries represent a significant financial burden, both in terms of lost productivity and increased costs for medical care and workers’ compensation. Hearing loss prevention certainly should be a top priority. But equally important is the availability of high-quality hearing health care, and a hearing benefit can help ensure that employees get the treatment they need.

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