Hearing Loss in Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing Industries

NIOSH estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in their workplaces – and this is entirely preventable with the right strategies and technology, such as controlling noise to safe levels, protecting employees through the use of personal protective equipment, and monitoring workers for changes in their hearing levels.

The prevalence of hearing loss among noise-exposed workers in the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting (AFFH) sector is 15%, according to a new NIOSH study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

However, when researchers examined industries within the sector they found as many as 36%—or 1 in 3 noise-exposed workers—have hearing loss. This is the first study to estimate prevalence and risk for hearing loss for sub-sectors within the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting industry sector.

The industries within the AFFH sector with the highest number of noise-exposed workers who have hearing loss and an elevated risk of hearing loss include:

  • Forest Nurseries and Gathering of Forest Products (36%), which entails growing trees for reforestation or gathering barks, gums, fibers, etc. from trees;
  • Timber Tract Operations (22%), which entails harvesting standing trees to make timber; and
  • Fishing (19%), this study sample comprised workers fishing for finfish such as tuna, salmon, trout, etc.

Additionally, researchers found workers in the aquaculture (fish farms or hatcheries) and logging industries are at higher risk for hearing loss.

For the study, researchers examined the results of 17,299 hearing tests, or audiograms, from workers employed at 458 companies in the AFFH sector. Certified technicians conducted the hearing tests for workers exposed to high noise (≥85 dBA) between the years 2003 and 2012 and shared the results with the NIOSH Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project.

While the prevalence of hearing loss in the AFFH sector has declined since the 1980s, however, it remains one of the industrial sectors with the highest risk for hearing loss.