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American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Vol. 57, Iss. 9, September 2014

Do hearing protectors protect hearing?


Background We examined the association between self-reported hearing protection use at work and incidence of hearing shifts over a 5-year period.

Methods Audiometric data from 19,911 workers were analyzed. Two hearing shift measures—OSHA standard threshold shift (OSTS) and high-frequency threshold shift (HFTS)—were used to identify incident shifts in hearing between workers' 2005 and 2009 audiograms. Adjusted odds ratios were generated using multivariable logistic regression with multi-level modeling.

Results The odds ratio for hearing shift for workers who reported never versus always wearing hearing protection was nonsignificant for OSTS (OR 1.23, 95% CI 0.92–1.64) and marginally significant for HFTS (OR 1.26, 95% CI 1.00–1.59). A significant linear trend towards increased risk of HFTS with decreased use of hearing protection was observed (P = 0.02).

Conclusion The study raises concern about the effectiveness of hearing protection as a substitute for noise control to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace. Am. J. Ind. Med. 57:1001–1010, 2014. Published 2014. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.


noise;hearing protection;occupational hearing loss; noise-induced hearing loss