Personnel Safety

NIOSH: Over Half of Workers Do Not Use Hearing Protection

Nearly half of workers exposed to hazardous occupational noise do not use hearing protection, according to a recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study. The study appeared in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Researchers found that some of the industries in which noise is a well-recognized hazard had high prevalences of hearing protection device (HPD) nonuse, including agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (74%) and construction (52%). Researchers also found a high prevalence of hearing protection nonuse among current smokers.

“No prior relationship between smoking and HPD non-use has been reported. Our study was the first to find a significant association between current smoking and HPD non-use,” Elizabeth Masterson, PhD, research epidemiologist and study coauthor, said in a NIOSH statement.

While fewer workers in the finance, insurance, healthcare, and social assistance industries are exposed to occupational noise, NIOSH researchers found a high prevalence of HPD nonuse among exposed workers in those industries, as well. Researchers also found significantly higher HPD nonuse among female workers and young workers (aged 18–25).

Researchers looked at 39,508 current adult workers who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health Interview Surveys in 2007 and 2014.

Survey participants were asked about their HPD use and occupational noise exposure within the past year. Of the workers surveyed, 2,057 reported exposure to occupational noise during the previous 12 months in 2007 and 3,380 in 2014. The prevalence of HPD nonuse did not change significantly between 2007 and 2014.

Opioid exposures in fire, police departments

NIOSH also released two Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) reports on opioid exposures among first responders in a city in Ohio. In addition to an investigation of unintentional opioid exposures among firefighters and police officers, the city and fire department officials were concerned about how responding to the opioid epidemic might affect the mental health of firefighters, who also provide emergency medical services (EMS) for the city.

NIOSH investigators examined 16 incidents of potential unintentional exposure to opioids reported from 2017 to 2019, using the following methods:

  • Conducting confidential interviews with the affected police officers about the incidents, work practices and processes, personal protective equipment (PPE) use, and health information;
  • Reviewing incident reports, medical records, and forensic laboratory reports when available; and
  • Reviewing body camera footage recorded during incidents, when available.

During the period of time between 2017 and 2019, 16 officers had unintentional exposure to suspected opioids documented in incident reports, and 12 experienced health effects from their occupational exposure. Multiple substances were identified in eight of 10 incidents, and fentanyl was identified in eight incidents, always along with at least one other substance. Other substances included cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl analogues.

Work activities included searching a person or a location, interacting with suspects, making traffic stops, or processing an admission to the county jail. Two incidents occurred when officers were processing evidence at police headquarters.

NIOSH investigators concluded officers did not have or use PPE appropriate for handling unknown powders in an uncontrolled setting and were insufficiently trained on using PPE. While half of the officers involved wore nitrile gloves, none reported wearing respiratory protection, such as an N95 filtering facepiece respirator.

Investigators also found some city firefighters reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and generalized anxiety.

In addition to a recommendation to follow NIOSH guidance on preventing emergency responders’ exposures to illicit drugs, investigators suggested the city continue to provide firefighters with mental health resources and encourage their use, as well as provide annual training by a mental health professional on topics like suicide prevention and recognizing and managing signs of stress.