Construction

Participating core and specialty programs: Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies, Engineering Controls, Occupational Health Equity, Safe●Skilled●Ready Workforce, Small Business Assistance, and Surveillance.

Manufacturers, equipment purchasers, and insurers (including workers’ compensation) adopt engineering controls to reduce harmful noise exposure among construction workers.

NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker population* Research Type
A Hearing loss Increase supply and demand of quieter equipment and vehicles (jackhammers, enclosed cabs, heavy equipment) Iron workers, welding, masons, boilermakers, laborers, small businesses, vulnerable workers Intervention
B Hearing loss Translate solutions from Mining and other sectors (fans, rotary drilling) Highway construction, laborers, small businesses, vulnerable workers Intervention
C Hearing loss Develop supply of and demand for quieter hand tools Laborers, carpenters, boilermakers, vulnerable workers small businesses InterventionTranslation

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 2.1.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of noise engineering controls to reduce hearing loss among construction workers.

Activity Goal 2.1.2 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective noise engineering controls to reduce hearing loss among construction workers.

Burden

Within the construction sector, 44% of workers are exposed to hazardous noise and about 31% of these noise-exposed workers report not wearing hearing protection [Tak et al. 2009]. Thirteen percent of all construction workers have hearing difficulty and 7% have tinnitus [Masterson et al. 2016]. However, among noise-exposed construction workers, twenty-five percent have a material hearing impairment (average hearing threshold levels above 25 dB for 1, 2, 3, & 4 kHz) in at least one ear [Masterson et al. 2015] and 16% have hearing impairment in both ears [Masterson et al. 2016]. Hearing impairment is hearing loss that impacts day-to-day activities. Almost three-quarters (73%) of construction workers measured in a longitudinal study between (1999-2009) were exposed daily to full-shift, noise levels above the NIOSH recommended exposure level (REL) of 85 dB time-weighted average A-weighted [CPWR 2010]. Many construction workers are also exposed to impulse or impact noise. Noise exposures are caused by a wide range of sources, including hand tools, larger machinery, heavy equipment, and generators.

Construction trades with the highest prevalence of hearing loss include welders, iron workers, laborers, boilermakers, carpenters, sheet-metal workers, and brick masons [CPWR 2010]. Many vulnerable workers may have an elevated or disproportionate risk, including foreign-born workers and workers with limited English-language skills, workers in small businesses, contingent workers, and younger (teenage) and older (65 and over) workers [Themann et al. 2013a,b]. Hearing loss can have a profound impact on quality of life. It is associated with cognitive decline [Chien et al. 2012] and cardiovascular outcomes such as hypertension [Themann et al. 2013a]. It is also strongly associated with depression [Themann et al. 2013a; Hetu et al. 1995]. Tinnitus, which often co-occurs with hearing loss, can disrupt sleep and is associated with both depression and anxiety [Shargorodsky et al. 2010]. Construction workers lose 3.1 healthy years, each year, for every 1,000 noise-exposed workers, the second highest loss among industries [CDC 2016].

Need

Noise control engineering solutions are the most effective methods to reduce noise exposures and to assure the exposure levels stay below the NIOSH REL of 85 dB(A). Noise controls need to be developed and evaluated in the laboratory, followed by work with manufacturers to evaluate the feasibility of the noise control solutions through field studies. Noise hazards posed by power tools and heavy equipment in construction need to be controlled at the source. There is also a need to develop quieter powered hand tools. Researchers should continue to promote and develop “Buy Quiet” approaches that address supply and demand, in addition to development of databases of tools and the noise levels produced when operated. Noise labeling with the level of noise produced by equipment or use of Safety Data Sheets documenting the hazardous noise and the means to protect against it is also helpful. Areas in need of research include reducing impulsive noise generated by pneumatic tools and continued expansion of the ability to assess and control noise in construction. Collaboration with the mining industry could help to understand how miners’ hearing is protected, and to determine if some of the mining technologies are suitable for similar applications and use in construction.

Employers and supervisors use NIOSH education tools and resources to prevent harmful noise exposures among construction workers.

NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population* Research Type
A Hearing loss Fit testing (voluntary consensus standards, increasing availability) Noise exposed workers Translation
B Hearing loss Training and awareness (Employers, supervisors and workers; apps) Noise exposed workers, vulnerable workers InterventionTranslation

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 2.2.1(Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of noise education and awareness interventions to reduce hearing loss in the construction industry.

Activity Goal 2.2.2 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective noise education and awareness interventions to reduce hearing loss in the construction industry.

Burden

Within the construction sector, 44% of workers are exposed to hazardous noise and about 31% of these noise-exposed construction workers report not wearing hearing protection [Tak et al. 2009]. The use of hearing protection is influenced by many factors including perceived hearing loss, education, and work experience. Integration of hearing protection device (HPD) training into multi-faceted intervention programs can be effective, but there are gaps in our understanding related to HPD usage, design, and effective training materials [CPWR 2010]. As described above, construction trades with the highest prevalence of hearing loss include welders, iron workers, laborers, boilermakers, carpenters, sheet-metal workers, and brick masons [CPWR 2010]. Many vulnerable workers may have an elevated or disproportionate risk, including foreign-born workers and workers with limited English-language skills, workers in small businesses, contingent workers, and younger (teenage) and older (65 and over) workers [Themann et al. 2013a, b].

Need

A Cochrane systematic review has identified a lack of demonstrated effectiveness for hearing conservation programs with regards to reducing the incidence of noise induced hearing loss [Verbeek et al. 2012]. Interventions to prevent hearing loss are sometimes ineffective due to improper and inconsistent use of hearing protection coupled with inadequate training [Byrne et al. 2017; Voix et al. 2009]. Employers and workers need to be educated about noise, including: (1) the proper way to insert foam ear plugs; and (2) provide information to trainers and workers about (a) “Buy Quiet” programs; (b) ways to reduce vibration of equipment to possibly reduce noise; and (c) use of administrative controls to limit exposure to hazardous noise, as specified by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements that allow for various exposure time/noise intensity levels [OSHA 2011]. Many of these educational materials could be applicable across all sectors for noise-exposed workers. It is important that the educational materials be available in English and Spanish and written in a manner that addresses the needs of vulnerable workers.

Some hearing protection manufacturers now provide hearing protector fit-testing systems that can measure a Personal Attenuation Rating of hearing protectors which provide opportunities to aid in the proper selection of hearing protection. Translational research for fit testing methods is needed. In addition, hearing protection researchers and advocates should communicate with employers and employees about new smartphone-based noise metering apps [Roberts et al. 2016, Kardous et al. 2014]. Use of these tools will create an awareness of noise exposures, and following from that, take steps to limit or reduce exposure to noise hazards.

Byrne DC, Murphy WJ, Krieg EF, Ghent RM, Michael KL, Stefanson EW, Ahroon WA [2017]. Inter-laboratory comparison of three earplug fit-test systems, J Occup Environ Hyg 14(4), 294-305 DOI: 10.1080/15459624.2016.1250002.

CDC [2016]. Hearing impairment among noise-exposed workers — United States, 2003–2012. MMWR 65(15):389-394.

Chien W, Lin FR [2012]. Prevalence of hearing aid use among older adults in the United States. Arch Intern Med 172(3):292-293.

CPWR (The Center for Construction Research and Training) [2010]. The construction chart book. Silver Spring, MD: The Center for Construction Research and Training, http://www.cpwr.com/sites/default/files/publications/CB%20page%2033.pdfCdc-pdfExternal.

Hetu R, Getty L, Quoc HT [1995]. Impact of occupational hearing loss on the lives of workers. Occup Med State Art Rev 10:495-512.

Kardous C, Shaw P [2014]. Evaluation of smartphone sound measurement applications, J Acoust Soc Am 135: EL186–EL192.

Masterson EA, Themann CL, Luckhaupt SE, Li J, Calvert GM [2016]. Hearing difficulty and tinnitus among U.S. workers and non-workers in 2007. Am J Ind Med 59:290-300.

Masterson EA, Deddens JA, Themann CL, Bertke S, Calvert GM [2015]. Trends in worker hearing loss by industry sector, 1981-2010. Am J Ind Med 58:392-401.

OSHA [2011]. 29 CFR 1910.95 Occupational noise exposure. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=9735

Roberts B, Kardous C, Neitzel R [2016]. Improving the accuracy of smart devices to measure noise exposure, J Occup Environ Hyg 13(11), 840-846, DOI: 10.1080/15459624.2016.1183014.

Shargorodsky J, Curhan GC, Wildon RF [2010]. Prevalence and characteristics of tinnitus among US adults. Am J Med 123(8):711-718.

Themann CL, Suter AH, Stephenson MR [2013a]. National research agenda for the prevention of occupational hearing loss – part 1. Sem Hear 34(3):145-207.

Themann CL, Suter AH, Stephenson MR [2013b]. National research agenda for the prevention of occupational hearing loss – part 2. Sem Hear 34(3):208-251.

Tak S, Davis RR, Calvert GM [2009]. Exposure to hazardous workplace noise and use of hearing protection devices among US workers — NHANES, 1999-2004. Am J Ind Med 52(5):358-371.

Verbeek JH, Kateman E, Morata TC, Dreschler WA, Mischke C [2012]. Interventions to prevent occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 10. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006396.pub3.

Voix J, Laville F [2009]. The objective measurement of individual earplug field performance. J Acoust Soc Am 125(6) 3722-3732.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018