Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2023 Sep;254:114263. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2023.114263. Epub 2023 Sep 22.
While perceptions of risk have been examined in the workplace to understand safety behavior, hazard perception has been overlooked, particularly for chemical, physical, and biological agents. This study sought to establish the prevalence of one type of mismatch in hazard perception, – noise misperception – among miners, to examine whether different types of noisy environments (e.g., continuous, highly variable, etc.) alter workers’ misperception of their noise exposures, and to evaluate whether noise misperception is associated with hearing protection device (HPD) use behavior. In this cross-sectional study across 10 surface mines in the USA, 135 normal-hearing participants were surveyed on their perceptions of exposure to noise at work and were monitored for three shifts, each with personal noise dosimetry, to examine which workers had a mismatch in perceived versus true noise exposure by 8-hr, time-weighted average, NIOSH exposure limits (TWANIOSH). Mixed effects logistic regression and probit Bayesian Kernel Machine Regression (BKMR) models examining on the odds of noise misperception associated with four different noise metrics (kurtosis, crest factor, variability, and number of peaks >135 dB) were used to determine which types of noisy environments may influence noise misperception. The relationship between noise misperception and odds of not wearing HPDs during a work shift was further examined. Our findings showed that nearly 1 in 3 workers underestimated their exposure to noise when their true exposure was in fact hazardous (TWANIOSH≥85 dBA) for at least one shift, and 6% misperceived hazardous exposures for all shifts. Work shifts with highly kurtotic noise distributions (>3) had 3.1 (95% CI: 1.1 to 8.4) times significantly higher odds of resulting in misperceived noise; no other noise metric was significantly associated with noise misperception. BKMR modeling provided further evidence that kurtosis dominates this relationship, with an IQR increase in kurtosis significantly associated with 1.68 (95% CI: 1.13 to 2.50) higher odds of noise misperception. Although not statistically significant, misperception of hazardous noise exposure was associated with 3.2 (95% CI: 0.8 to 12.5) times higher odds of not using earplugs during a work shift. Misperception of noise occurs in the workplace, and likely occurs for other physical, chemical, and biological exposures. This hazard misperception may influence risk perceptions and worker behavior and reduce the effectiveness of behavior-related training. Elimination, substitution, or engineering controls of exposures is the best way to prevent hazard misperceptions and exposure-related diseases.