The effectiveness of hearing protection among construction workers

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2005 Apr;2(4):227-38. doi: 10.1080/15459620590932154.


Effective hearing conservation programs in the construction industry are rare. Where programs are present, they often rely on workers' use of hearing protection devices (HPDs) rather than on exposure controls to reduce noise exposure levels. Dependence on HPDs for protection from high noise is problematic, as the protection provided by the HPD depends on both the HPD's attenuation level and the time the HPD is used. This article presents an analysis of data on noise exposure and hearing protection among construction workers drawn from several large datasets covering nine construction trades. A unique combination of 1-min dosimetry noise exposure levels and simultaneous self-reported use of HPDs was evaluated, as were occupational and nonoccupational HPD use data collected by questionnaire as part of a longitudinal study of noise exposure and hearing loss among apprentices. Direct measurements of HPD attenuation were also made on workers at their work site. The workers assessed in this study were found to use hearing protection less than one-quarter of the time that they were exposed above 85 dBA. Workers who reported always using HPDs in high noise on questionnaires were found to wear them only one-third of the time their exposures exceeded 85 dBA. Workers' self-reported use of HPDs during most noisy nonoccupational activities was also found to be low. Direct attenuation measurements found that workers were able to achieve more than 50% of the rated attenuation of their HPD on average, but that the variability in achieved attenuation was large. When the measured HPD attenuation levels and use time data were combined, the effective protection afforded by HPDs was less than 3 dB, a negligible amount given the high exposure levels associated with construction work. However, there was substantial variation in effective protection among the different trades assessed. These results demonstrate the need for better hearing conservation programs and expanded noise control efforts in the construction industry.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Ear Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Facility Design and Construction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Noise, Occupational / prevention & control*
  • Noise, Occupational / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Washington