Does tinnitus, hearing asymmetry, or hearing loss predispose to occupational injury risk?

OBJECTIVE: To determine the relative contributions of tinnitus, asymmetrical hearing loss, low frequency hearing loss (pure tone average of 0.5, 1, 2, 3 kHz; PTA.5123), or high frequency hearing loss (pure tone average of 4, 6 kHz; PTA46), to acute injury risk among a cohort of production and maintenance workers at six aluminum manufacturing plants, adjusting for ambient noise exposure and other recognized predictors of injury risk.
DESIGN: Retrospective analysis. Study sample: The study considered 9920 workers employed during 2003 to 2008. The cohort consisted of 8818 workers (89%) whose complete records were available.
RESULTS: Adjusting for noise exposure and other recognized injury predictors, a 25% increased acute injury risk was observed among workers with a history of tinnitus in conjunction with high-frequency hearing loss (PTA46). Low frequency hearing loss may be associated with minor, yet less serious, injury risk. We did not find evidence that asymmetry contributes to injury risk.
CONCLUSION: These results provide evidence that tinnitus, combined with high-frequency hearing loss, may pose an important safety threat to workers, especially those who work in high-noise exposed environments. These at risk workers may require careful examination of their communication and hearing protection needs.

Source: Cantley LF, Galusha D, Cullen MR, Dixon-Ernst C, Tessier-Sherman B, Slade MD, Rabinowitz PM, Neitzel RL. Int. J. Audiol, 2014.

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