Occup Environ Med 69:176-183 doi:10.1136/oem.2011.064758
  • Exposure assessment
  • Original article

Occupational noise exposure assessment using O*NET and its application to a study of hearing loss in the US general population

Open Access
  1. Sung Kyun Park1,2
  1. 1Department of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  3. 3Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluation, and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  4. 4Department of Biostatistics, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  1. Correspondence to Sung Kyun Park, M5541 SPH II, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA; sungkyun{at}
  • Accepted 8 June 2011
  • Published Online First 1 July 2011


Objectives Although occupational noise is a well known risk factor for hearing loss, little epidemiological evidence has been reported on its association with hearing loss in the general population, in part, because of the difficulty in exposure assessment. This study introduced a quantitative occupational noise exposure assessment tool using the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database and evaluated its applicability for epidemiological research using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999–2004.

Methods The O*NET noise exposure data were assessed by questionnaires across numerous occupations, asking the frequency of exposure to sounds and noise levels that are distracting and uncomfortable (with five possible responses from ‘never’ to ‘every day’). Means of the O*NET noise scores were computed to correspond to NHANES occupational categories and assigned to 3828 adults aged 20–69 years, who participated in the 1999–2004 NHANES. Pure-tone averages (PTA) of hearing thresholds at 0.5, 1, 2 and 4 kHz were computed, and hearing loss was defined as a PTA >25 dB in either ear. Linear and logistic regression models with either continuous or quintiles of the O*NET noise scores were fitted on log-transformed PTA and binary hearing loss, respectively.

Results Noise scores ranged from 1.80 to 4.37 with mean±SE of 3.06±0.02. After controlling for potential confounders, the highest (vs lowest) noise score quintile had a 22.5% (95% CI 11.0% to 35.2%) increase in PTA, and there was a linear dose-dependent trend across the quintiles of noise scores (p trend<0.0001). The adjusted OR for hearing loss comparing the highest with the lowest noise score quintiles was 2.1 (95% CI 1.2 to 3.6).

Conclusion This study suggests that the O*NET noise score is a useful tool for examining occupational noise-induced health effects in the general population in the absence of actual occupational noise exposure assessment data.


  • Funding This study was supported by the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences grants K01-ES016587. This research was also supported in part by a pilot project research training grant from the Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering (COHSE) at the University of Michigan. COHSE, an Education and Research Center, is supported by training grant No. 2T42OH008455 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The contents of this paper are solely the responsibility of the author(s) and do not represent official views of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Other funders: National Institutes of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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