Noise in the Workplace

By: Marie Donlon

Employees exposed to loud noise at work are at greater risk of developing hypertension and hyperlipidemia, according to research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

"Reducing workplace noise levels is critical not just for hearing loss prevention — it may also impact blood pressure and cholesterol," said NIOSH Director John Howard, MD. "Worksite health and wellness programs that include screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol should also target noise-exposed workers."

Publishing their findings in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, researchers estimate that 41 million U.S. workers are affected by workplace noise.

To reach this conclusion, researchers looked at data concerning occupational noise exposure, heart conditions, hearing difficulty and the relationship between workplace noise and heart disease.

"We can't determine if noise causes these conditions in a cross-sectional study. We can't say that noise leads to these conditions," stated Elizabeth Masterson, Ph.D., coauthor and epidemiologist at NIOSH.

"We don't know the mechanism, but it has been theorized to work through both the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system via a stress response that elevates key biological risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as blood pressure and cholesterol," she added.

"There are some biologic reasons why loud noise would raise blood pressure," said Maryann McLaughlin, MD, associate professor, cardiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who wasn't involved in the study.

"Any kind of stress, even though the patient may not consider a loud-noise environment particularly stressful, it definitely can raise adrenaline levels, which then can raise blood pressure. Even if they have become accustomed to that background level of noise, their body can still be affected in that way," said McLaughlin.

"There are many environmental risks, such as air pollution, that can affect cardiovascular disease, and loud noise is an added factor that we should start to pay attention to," she added. "For anyone in an environment with increased noise levels, it's not just hearing loss that we have to think about, but there may in fact be some risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol."

Masterson said, "It is important that workers be screened regularly for these conditions in the workplace or through a healthcare provider, so interventions can occur. As these conditions are more common among noise-exposed workers, they could especially benefit from these screenings."

Some of the industries at greater risk of noise exposure, according to the research, include:

  • Mining (61%)

  • Construction (51%)

  • Manufacturing (47%)

  • Utilities (43%)

  • Transportation and warehousing (40%)

Some of the occupations at greater risk of noise exposure, according to the study, include:

  • Production (55%)

  • Construction and extraction (54%)

  • Installation, maintenance and repair (54%)

  • Transportation and material moving (44%)

  • Protective service (36%)

For an abstract of the study, go to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.