Gender and other factors associated with the use of hearing protection devices at work

OBJECTIVE To analyze whether sociodemographic, occupational, and health-related data are associated with the use of hearing protection devices at work, according to gender. METHODS A cross-sectional study was conducted in 2006, using a random sample of 2,429 workers, aged between 18 and 65 years old, from residential sub-areas in Salvador, BA, Northeastern Brazil. Questionnaires were used to obtain sociodemographic, occupational, and health-related data. Workers who reported that they worked in places where they needed to shout in order to be heard were considered to be exposed to noise. Exposed workers were asked whether they used hearing protection devices, and if so, how frequently. Analyses were conducted according to gender, with estimates made about prevalence of the use of hearing protection devices, prevalence ratios, and their respective 95% confidence intervals. RESULTS Twelve percent (12.3%) of study subjects reported that they were exposed to noise while working. Prevalence of the use of hearing protection devices was 59.3% for men and 21.4% for women. Men from higher socioeconomic levels (PR = 1.47; 95%CI 1.14;1.90) and who had previous audiometric tests (PR = 1.47; 95%CI 1.15;1.88) were more likely to use hearing protection devices. For women, greater perceived safety was associated with the use of protection devices (PR = 2.92; 95%CI 1.34;6.34). This perception was specifically related to the presence of supervisors committed to safety (PR = 2.09; 95%CI 1.04;4.21), the existence of clear rules to prevent workplace injuries (PR = 2.81; 95%CI 1.41;5.59), and whether they were informed about workplace safety (PR = 2.42; 95%CI 1.23;4.76). CONCLUSIONS There is a gender bias regarding the use of hearing protection devices that is less favorable to women. The use of such devices among women is positively influenced by their perception of a safe workplace, suggesting that gender should be considered as a factor in hearing conservation programs.