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Adjusting retrospective noise exposure assessment for use of hearing protection devices Sbihi, Hind


Earlier retrospective noise exposure assessments for use in epidemiological research were not adequately characterized because they did not properly account for use of hearing protection devices (HPD) which would result in potential misclassification. Exposure misclassification has been shown to attenuate exposure-outcomes relations. In the case of already subtle relationships such as noise and cardiovascular diseases, this would potentially annihilate any association. We investigated two approaches using Workers’ Compensation Board (WorkSafe BC) audiometric surveillance data to (i) re-assess the noise exposure in a cohort of lumber mill workers in British Columbia using data on the use of HPD and the determinants of their use available through WorkSafe BC, and (ii) test the validity of the new exposure measures by testing their predictions of noise-induced hearing loss, a well-established association. Work history, noise exposure measurements, and audiometric surveillance data were merged together, forming job-exposure-audiometric information for each of 13,147 lumber mill workers. Correction factors specific to each type and class of HPD were determined based on research and standards. HPD-relevant correction factors were created using 1) deterministic methods and self-reported HPD use after filling gaps in the exposure history, or 2) a model of the determinants of use of HPD, then adjusting noise estimates according to the methods’ predictions and attenuation factors. For both methods, the HPD-adjusted and unadjusted noise exposure estimates were cumulated across all jobs each worker held in a cohort-participating lumber mill. Finally, these noise metrics were compared by examining how well each predicted hearing loss. Analyses controlled for gender, age, race as well as medical and non-occupational risk factors. Both methods led to a strengthening of the noise-hearing loss relationships compared to methods using HPD-unadjusted noise estimates. The method based on the modeling of HPD use had the best performance with a four-fold increase in the slope compared to the unadjusted noise-hearing loss slope. Accounting for HPD use in noise exposure assessment is necessary since we have shown that misclassification attenuated the exposure-response relationships. Exposure-response analyses subsequent to exposure reassessment provide predictive validity and gives confidence in the exposure adjustment methods.

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