Hearing loss among operating engineers in American construction industry

  • OiSaeng HongEmail author
Original Article


Objective: Occupational noise exposure and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) among construction workers has long been recognized as a problem in the United States, yet little is known about the prevalence of NIHL among American construction workers. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence and characteristics of hearing loss among operating engineers (OEs) who operate heavy construction machinery. Method: As a part of hearing protection intervention, an audiometric test was conducted for both ears at frequencies 0.5 through 8 kHz in the soundproof booth. Prior to the audiometric test, a paper-pencil pre-hearing test questionnaire was administered and an otoscopic examination was completed. Prevalence of hearing loss was determined based on hearing threshold levels (HTLs) in the worst ear with a low fence of 25 dB. Result: A total of 623 workers were included in the analysis and they were predominantly middle-aged Caucasian males (mean age = 43 years, Caucasian = 90%, male = 92%). Over 60% of OEs showed hearing loss in the noise-sensitive higher frequencies of 4 and 6 kHz. The rate of hearing loss was particularly higher among workers who reported longer years of working in the construction industry. Workers showed significantly poorer hearing in the left ear, and a typical characteristic of NIHL, a V-notch at 4 or 6 kHz, was not shown in this population. Thirty-eight percent reported ringing/buzzing in the ear and 62% indicated having problems in understanding what people say in loud noise. Average reported use of hearing protection devices (HPDs) was 48% of the time they were required to be used. Significant inverse relationship was found between higher frequency (4–6 kHz) hearing loss and use of HPDs (r =−0.134, p < 0.001). Workers using HPDs more had significantly better hearing than those who did not. Conclusion: The study demonstrated a significant NIHL problem and low use of HPDs in OEs. An effective hearing conservation program, including a periodic audiometric testing and hearing protection intervention, for this study population should be in place.


Noise Hearing loss Construction workers Hearing protection Prevalence 



This study was supported by research grant (5R01 OH04034-01A1) from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention–National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC–NIOSH, Principal Investigator–Dr. OiSaeng Hong). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC–NIOSH. The author is thankful for union leaders at the Local 324 Training Center of the International Union of Operating Engineers for their collaboration and all operating engineers who participated in this study. Also, the author would like to acknowledge Mr. Alonzo LaGrone and Mr. Jim Roll for their assistance in preparation of this manuscript and data analysis, respectively.


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Copyright information

©  2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Promotion & Risk Reduction Program, School of NursingUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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