Although occupational hearing loss is a recognized risk in some industries and professions, there is relatively little data on hearing risk in the police force. However, many professions coexist in the police force, some of which are in the field, in contact with blaring sirens, horns and rioters’ noises.
Are police officers in the field and motorcyclists more at risk of occupational hearing loss than their colleagues assigned to bureaucratic tasks? A comparative study by Dr. François-Xavier Lesage1 provides some answers to this question.
“We didn’t expect to find anything obvious, except for the bikers” – Dr François Xavier Lesage
1692 subjects, having worked from 1999 to 2005 in Reims (France), participated in this study, including :
• 887 field agents, including 33 motorcyclists,
• 805 administrative staff (academics, researchers, technicians, janitors), selected because they were not exposed to occupational noise.
The study considered potential sources of bias, including past noise exposures. Subjects’ medical records included information about their medical history, including :
• Ear and hearing problems,
• Leisure time noise exposure,
• Military service,
• Occupational history including previous occupations,
• Specific exposure to occupational hazards,
• Number of years in occupation,
• Cigarette smoking status at the time of the medical and auditory examination.
All subjects had been working for at least one semester. Their follow-up included systematic standardized audiometric tests and an interview on daily noise exposure.
A study that complements existing data
Data were already available on hearing loss due to gunshot noise, mainly in soldiers2,3 ; higher hearing impairment was found in some specialized police forces, such as traffic officers in a major Egyptian city4 and dog handlers5 , but data were not available for Western European police officers other than motorcyclists.
This study1 provides additional information and the results speak for themselves: while there is little difference between field and administrative police officers in terms of overall hearing loss – 23% of the former and 21.5% of the latter are affected – the distinction is clear when looking at selective, noise-related hearing loss, since 28% of field police officers have a selective hearing loss equal to or greater than 30dB at the 4000Hz frequency, compared to “only” 16% of police officers assigned to administrative duties. Thus, working in the field would increase the risk of suffering from noise-induced hearing loss by 1.4 times. As for motorcyclists, the use of radios, fast lanes, and exposure to road traffic noise would increase the risk of such a hearing loss by up to 3 times.
Poorly identified exposures
It was not possible to identify the sources of noise pollution responsible for hearing loss in field officers. This is because police officers are potentially exposed to multiple sources of noise (horns, gunfire, barking, traffic noise), there are a variety of police tasks and each is likely to involve different exposures. These may be impulsive or chronic noise exposures, the latter being defined as greater than 85dB.
Accurate identification of noise sources would therefore have required analysis of continuous noise exposure by installing a sensor at the ear entrance throughout the day and a nationwide study. However, the study found that :
• Hearing loss associated with firearm shooting is more likely to come from unintentional and unexpected exposure than from planned activity at a shooting range where hearing protection is used ;
• Chronic exposure to traffic noise may be a significant source of occupational hearing loss, particularly among motorcycle officers.6,7 Noise exposure among motorcyclists is known to be dangerous. According to Ross, during city driving, equivalent continuous noise levels range from 63 to 90dB. On the road, levels were as high as 105dB8.
What are the risks for police officers with noise-induced hearing loss?
With age, this occupational hearing loss will certainly aggravate presbycusis, which naturally occurs around the age of 60. This pathology, which affects more than 5 million French people and appears earlier – one third of the under 30s are affected – causes daily discomfort for the individual and can only be compensated for with a hearing aid. Information and hearing protection for active agents is therefore necessary and concerns, to date in France, 149,000 national police officers, 99,000 gendarmes and more than 20,000 municipal police officers.
Can hearing loss be prevented? Yes, we make a point in this article.
Sources and references :
1 Lesage FX, Jovenin N, Deschamps F, Vincent S.
Noise-induced hearing loss in French police officers, University Press on behalf of the Society of Occupational Medicine
– vol. 59, issue 7, Oct. 2009, (pg. 483 – 486)
2 Kiukaanniemi H, Lopponen H, Sorri M.
Noise induced low and high-frequency hearing losses in Finnish conscripts
– Mil Med, 1992, vol. 157 (pg. 480 – 482)
3 Ylikoski J.
Acute acoustic trauma in Finnish conscripts. Etiological factors and characteristics of hearing impairments
– Scand Audiol, 1989, vol. 18 (pg. 161-165)
4 Kamal AA, Eldamati SE, Faris R.
Hearing threshold of Cairo traffic policemen
– Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 1989, vol. 61 (pg. 543 – 545)
5 Reid A, Dick F, Semple S.
Dog noise as a risk factor for hearing loss among police dog handlers
– Occup Med (Lond), 2004, vol. 54 (pg. 535 – 539)
6 Mc Combe AW, Binnington J, Davis A, Spencer H.
Hearing loss and motorcyclists
– J Laryngol Otol, 1995, vol. 109 (pg. 599 – 604)
7 Pierson WR, Mahe JE
Noise and the highway patrolman
– J Occup Med (Lond), 1973, vol. 15 (pg. 892 – 893)
8 Ross BC
Noise exposure of motorcyclists
– Ann Occup Hyg, 1989, vol. 33 (pg. 123 – 127)
9 McBride DI, William S.
Audiometric notch as a sign of noise induced hearing loss
– Occup Environ Med, 2001, vol. 58 (pg. 46 – 51)
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