Oil and Gas Extraction

Participating core and specialty programs: Engineering Controls, Small Business Assistance, Surveillance, and Translation Research.

Employers, equipment manufacturers, professional associations, and workers use NIOSH information to prevent hazardous noise exposure among oil and gas extraction 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 Identification of noise sources at worksites Drilling contractors, well servicing contractors, small businesses Surveillance research


B Hearing loss Exposure to noise and ototoxic chemicals from large equipment with diesel engines Drilling contractors, well servicing contractors, small businesses Intervention
C Hearing loss Effective use of personal protective equipment (PPE) Drilling contractors, well servicing contractors, small businesses Translation

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 2.6.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand sources of noise exposure in oil and gas extraction worksites.

Activity Goal 2.6.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to prevent noise overexposure among oil and gas extraction workers.

Activity Goal 2.6.3 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to effective use of PPE to prevent hearing loss among oil and gas extraction workers.

Activity Goal 2.6.4 (Surveillance Research): Conduct surveillance research to better understand the burden of hearing loss and sources of noise in the oil and gas extraction sector.


Businesses in the oil and gas extraction sector (OGE) are exempt from complying with the federal requirements requiring a hearing conservation program, monitoring noise levels, and annual audiometric testing for workers (29 CFR 1910.95). While every year approximately 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace [Tak et al. 2009], accurate data for workers in this industry are lacking. In 2002 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) modified the federal requirements to include hearing loss as a recordable injury on OSHA 300 logs (29 CFR 1904.10) in order to document this injury, but again OGE operations are exempt. Previous NIOSH work [NIOSH 1998] estimated that 23% (76,500) of all OGE workers were exposed to potentially damaging noise (>85dBA) at least once a week, for 90% of the weeks they worked in a year, and safety professionals within OGE have identified hearing loss as an important issue [McCrary 1994, Smith 1991]. According to an alert issued by the International Association of Drilling Contractors [IADC 1998], noise measured on a drilling rig was reported at 102 dBA beside an engine skid and 90-97 dBA on the rig floor (where many of the workers are located) while drilling. Statistics from the NIOSH Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance project estimated that approximately 76% of all workers in mining, oil and gas extraction are exposed to hazardous noise levels [Tak et al. 2009]. About 13% of noise-exposed workers report not wearing hearing protection when working in noisy areas [Tak et al. 2009]. Among all workers in mining, oil and gas extraction, 12% have hearing difficulty and 11% have tinnitus [Masterson et al. 2016]. Among noise-exposed workers, 25% have a material hearing impairment [Masterson et al. 2015], meaning they have significant difficulty understanding speech.


There exists a need for NIOSH to conduct noise exposure surveys in the oil and gas extraction sector. During the 20 years since NIOSH’s last publication in this area [NIOSH 1998], new work practices and equipment have been introduced, but not independently evaluated. Further, much of the noise attenuation activities in the industry have focused on reducing noise emissions for residents of nearby communities rather than for workers. New research, including surveillance, to characterize noise hazards to workers in the modern OGE workplace is needed. Once the exposures have been characterized, work to eliminate sources of noise, develop and evaluate noise controls, improve work practices, or provide enhanced personal protection for workers in the OGE sector can begin. There is potential for workers to be exposed to volatile hydrocarbons that could potentially interact with noise to exacerbate the hearing loss that workers might experience, which should be considered during intervention research. Translational research is necessary to communicate the risk of noise induced hearing loss to workers in this sector. The efforts that have been undertaken in other sectors (e.g., mining, manufacturing, and construction) can be useful to help aid workers learn proper fitting techniques for hearing protection devices [Murphy et al. 2016]. The use of hearing protector fit testing systems can aid in training workers. However, the message needs to be tailored to the industry [Murphy et al. 2011]. With a lower price for oil and natural gas, the workforce is currently lower than previous high-activity periods which makes this a good time for NIOSH to act as partnerships could be established giving our noise control engineers access to equipment not currently in high demand for use in the field.

IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) [1998]. Safety Alert: Exposure to noise. Houston, TX: International Association of Drilling Contracts, http://www.iadc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/SA98-05.pdfCdc-pdfExternal

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

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 of Ind Med 59:290-300.

McCrary JB [1994]. Implementation of a hearing conservation program in oilfield servicing operations. In: Proceedings of SPE Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Conference, Jakarta, Indonesia, January 25-27, https://doi.org/10.2118/27215-MSExternal

Murphy WJ, Stephenson MR, Byrne DC, Witt B, Duran J [2011]. Effects of training on hearing protector attenuation. Noise Health 13:132–141.

Murphy WJ, Themann CL, Murata TK [2016]. Hearing protector fit testing with off-shore oil-rig inspectors in Louisiana and Texas. Int J Audiol 55(11): 688-698, DOI: 10.1080/14992027.2016.1204470

NIOSH [1998] Criteria for a recommended standard… occupational noise exposure, revised criteria 1998. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-126. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/98-126

Smith GD, Gloeckler D [1991]. Noise reduction and improved hearing protection on MODUS. In: SPE/IADC Drilling Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 11-14 March, https://doi.org/10.2118/21950-MSExternal

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.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018