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Hearing Loss Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
its research and information dissemination. Taking into account several important factors beyond the program’s control, the committee found that overthe past decade (the period covered by this review), the Hearing Loss ResearchProgram has made meaningful contributions to improving worker health andsafety.
Using a five-point scoring scale (where 5 is highest), the committee assigned the research program a score of 4 for impact, indicating that the program has made a moderate contribution on the basis of end outcomes (improvements in worker health or safety) or well-accepted intermediateoutcomes (use or adoption of work by stakeholders). However, some of theprogram’s work appears to be too narrowly targeted or directed to activitiesthat are secondary to meeting the needs of protecting the hearing of workers.For this reason the committee assigned a score of 3 for relevance, indicatingthat often the research focuses on lesser priorities and is loosely or only indirectly connected to workplace protection.
To enhance the relevance and impact of its work and fulfill its statedmission of providing national and world leadership to reduce the prevalenceof occupational hearing loss through a focused program of research and prevention, the committee recommends that the NIOSH Hearing Loss ResearchProgram foster effective leadership in program planning and implementation; further implement program evaluation efforts; gain access to additionalintramural and extramural expertise, especially in epidemiology and noisecontrol engineering; and initiate and sustain efforts to obtain surveillancedata for occupational hearing loss and workplace noise exposure.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has included prevention of occupational hearing loss as part of its research portfolio since its establishment by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (P.L. 91-596). Occupational hearing loss is a serious concern, although the number of workers affected is uncertain. Using data from the 1980s and early 1990s (the most recent available), NIOSH estimated that at least 4 million workers in the United States were exposed to workplace noise levels that put them at risk of hearing loss. Some workers may be at risk due to exposure to ototoxic chemicals. Occupational hearing loss may impede communication and contribute to safety hazards in the workplace, and it may adversely affect other aspects of workers’ lives.
In conjunction with planned reviews of up to 15 NIOSH research programs, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convened a committee of experts to review the NIOSH Hearing Loss Research Program to evaluate the relevance of its work to improvements in occupational safety and health and the impact of NIOSH re-