The Hidden Costs of Harmful Noise.  Is Your Business at Risk?
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In This Issue
1 in 8 U.S Workers Exposed to Hazardous Noise Experience Hearing Loss
Exposure to loud noise carries a significant health and safety burden and is costly for employers.  Noise related hearing loss has been one of the most predominant occupational health concerns in the United States for nearly three decades where an estimated 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise every year (1).  High noise exposure is the leading cause of occupational hearing loss- the most common work-related illness in the United States today (2).  An estimated $242 million is spent annually on worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability (3).

About 1 in 8 U.S workers who are exposed to hazardous noise experience some form of hearing loss, according to a recent report released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just days before the 21st Annual International Noise Awareness Day.

Results of more than 1.4 million audiograms* of workers who were exposed to hazardous noise from 2003 to 2012 were examined using data from the NIOSH Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project.  Across all industries, 13% of hazardous noise exposed workers had some form of hearing loss, while the highest prevalence of hearing impairment occurred in the mining, construction, and manufacturing sectors. 

Since 1998, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has recommended that all worker exposures to noise should be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to minimize occupational noise induced hearing loss.  Although personal hearing protection is an important step to control noise, it should be the last resort.  Is it possible for your workplace to eliminate the source of the noise or make a substitution that would result in less noise?  For example, you may want to implement a low-noise purchasing policy for new equipment or improve maintenance procedures that can reduce noise from friction and moving parts.

*An audiogram is a graph showing the results of a hearing test.  A series of audiograms can track changes in hearing over time.
Noise Awareness Day
April 28th marked the 21st Annual International Noise Awareness Day.  The Center for Hearing and Communication established this global campaign during the last Wednesday of April to encourage the public to do something about exposure to loud noise at work, from recreational activities, and from the surrounding environment.

“Occupational hearing loss is a permanent but entirely preventable condition with today’s hearing loss prevention strategies and technology. Concurrent with prevention efforts, early detection of hearing loss by consistent annual audiometric testing, and intervention to preclude further loss are critical.” Masterson EA, Bushnell PT, Themann CL, Morata TC.
More resources and additional information on occupational noise exposure.
Annual Occupational Health Symposium Brings Attention to Mental Health, Stress, and Substance Abuse
It's been over 3 years since your last workplace injury, your employees get their annual flu-shots, company morale seems better than ever and your CDC Worksite Health Scorecard showed significant improvements.  Regardless, healthcare premiums and absentees have not decreased as much as you'd like and productivity could be improved.  What's going on?

Poor mental health and stress lead to more lost work days than do physical illness or injury (1) and is more common than we think.  According to a report from the Surgeon General, 1 in 5 adults will experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year.  This might explain why mental illness and substance abuse indirectly cost employers an estimated $80 to $100 billion annually (2).  Participants attending the 18th Annual Occupational Health Symposium on April 28th and 29th at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa gathered to learn more about stress and mental health in the workplace. 

Dr. Michael Flaum, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, began the Symposium with a historical perspective on mental health.  Additional presentations ranged from topics like physical injuries that turn into psychological claims and how to help workers with the stress of non-medical workplace concerns.  Cynthia Joyce, Ombudsperson at the University of Iowa, talked about examples of non-medical concerns workers may face and how to assess the acuity of each situation, and presented a structure to guide occupational health professionals as they think about and respond to these concerns.  Joyce explained that workers may experience stress from anything from a breakdown in the relationship with a coworker to organizational changes in the workplace, and recommended that occupational health professionals follow these five steps for responding to a worker's workplace concern:
  • Listen to understand the situation.
  • Ask questions: What does the worker want?
  • Talk about options.
  • Talk about resources like Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Develop a plan.

Addressing stress and promoting mental health in the workplace can increase productivity and help your company's bottom line.  The list of resources below will help you get started.

A Mentally Healthy Workforce -- It's Good for Business
Stress and Mental Well-being policy examples
The Symposium was co-sponsored by the Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence and the Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety at The University of Iowa in the College of Public Health. 
Returning to Work After FMLA
If someone were to ask if you were at "100%" today, what would you say?  Like many of us who don't feel 100% all day, every day, you may have answered no, although you still performed your essential job functions.  What about an employee who is returning to work after taking FMLA because of an injury or illness?  Should you require them to be at 100%? 

The answer is no, Kate Harri explained during the 18th Annual Occupational Health Symposium.  Harri is a licensed psychologist and President of Working Solutions, LLC.  To request that employees be at 100% is a violation of the ADAAA (ADA Amendments Act of 2008) because it prevents them to exercise their right to request an accommodation.  Whether an employee is returning to work after taking leave for a physical or mental impairment it's important to provide a reasonable accommodation, if needed, to that employee when they do return to work.  The Job Accommodation Network is a useful resource to make the transition back to work successful for both the employee and the employer. 

Harri's presentation, Do I have to be 100%? Building the Bridge for Return to Work, discussed the value of returning to work for both employers and employees and the process to make returning to work successful. 
University of Iowa Pre-Diabetes Campaign Evaluation Study Needs Your Help
Dr. Shelly Campo, a researcher in the University of Iowa’s Healthier Workforce Center, is seeking Iowa adults ages 35-64 without diabetes to participate in focus groups or interviews discussing a new pre-diabetes media campaign by the Iowa Department of Public Health.  Compensation is provided.  If you are willing to advertise the opportunity to employees in your business (e.g., put up posters or post to your company listserv), please contact Dr. Shelly Campo at (English only) or Alejandra Gonzalez, RN, at (English or Español).

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Announcing the National Total Worker Health Agenda
We are pleased to announce the official publication of the National Total Worker Health® Agenda, a National Occupational Research Agenda intended to define and prioritize occupational safety and health practice, prevention, and research activities for the next decade.  The long term vision of Total Worker Health (TWH) is to protect the safety and health of workers and to advance their well-being by creating safer and healthier work environments and addressing employment-related issues.  In support of this vision, the Agenda articulates a variety of strategic goals, intermediate goals, and activity/output goals within Practice, Policy, Capacity-Building, and research.

This Agenda builds on an earlier proposed National TWH Agenda released in September 2014 for stakeholder comment.  The resulting input has critically shaped the direction of the Agenda and the TWH program at NIOSH as a whole, as evidenced by NIOSH’s Response to Summarized Stakeholders’ Comments, which lists specific edits to the Agenda prompted by feedback received.

More information about the final Agenda and NIOSH’s Response to Summarized Stakeholder Comments is available at

Recognizing that the involvement of stakeholders has been pivotal in the creation of the National Total Worker Health Agenda and will continue to be so in its fulfillment, we invite you to share the Agenda with your professional networks.


Event Planner

June 13-17: Agricultural Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Health for Rural Health Professionals, Iowa City, IA
July 12-14: OHP Summer Institute, Portland, OR

November 15-16: Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety & Health Conference, Sioux Center, IA

Visit our calendar for a full listing of trainings, conferences, and other events.
The Healthier Workforce Center for Excellence (HWCE) is one of four Total Worker Health® Centers of Excellence funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Our mission is to improve the health of workers in Iowa and nationally through integrated health promotion and health protection research, collaboration, and dissemination of successful interventions.

Copyright © 2015 UI HWCE. All rights reserved.

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