The prevalence of occupational exposure to noise: A systematic review and meta-analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury

Liliane R. Teixeira, Frank Pega*, Wagner de Abreu, Marcia S. de Almeida, Carlos A.F. de Andrade, Tatiana M. Azevedo, Angel M. Dzhambov, Weijiang Hu, Marta R.V. Macedo, Martha S. Martínez-Silveira, Xin Sun, Meibian Zhang, Siyu Zhang, Denise T. Correa da Silva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are developing joint estimates of the work-related burden of disease and injury (WHO/ILO Joint Estimates), with contributions from a large network of individual experts. Evidence from mechanistic and human data suggests that occupational exposure to noise may cause cardiovascular disease. In this paper, we present a systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of occupational exposure to noise for estimating (if feasible) the number of deaths and disability-adjusted life years from cardiovascular disease that are attributable to exposure to this risk factor, for the development of the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates. Objectives: We aimed to systematically review and meta-analyse estimates of the prevalence of occupational exposure to noise. Data sources: We searched electronic academic databases for potentially relevant records from published and unpublished studies, including Ovid Medline, PubMed, EMBASE, and CISDOC. We also searched electronic grey literature databases, Internet search engines, and organizational websites; hand-searched reference list of previous systematic reviews and included study records; and consulted additional experts. Study eligibility and criteria: We included working-age (≥15 years) workers in the formal and informal economies in any WHO Member and/or ILO member State, but excluded children (<15 years) and unpaid domestic workers. We included all study types with an estimate of the prevalence of occupational exposure to noise, categorized into two levels: no (low) occupational exposure to noise (<85dBA) and any (high) occupational exposure to noise (≥85dBA). Study appraisal and synthesis methods: At least two review authors independently screened titles and abstracts against the eligibility criteria at a first stage and full texts of potentially eligible records at a second stage, followed by extraction of data from qualifying studies. We combined prevalence estimates using random-effect meta-analysis. Two or more review authors assessed the risk of bias and the quality of evidence, using the RoB-SPEO tool and QoE-SPEO approach developed specifically for the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates. Results: Sixty-five studies (56 cross-sectional studies and nine cohort studies) met the inclusion criteria, comprising 157,370 participants (15,369 females) across 28 countries and all six WHO regions (Africa, Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, South-East Asia, and Western Pacific). For the main analyses, we prioritized the four included studies that surveyed national probability samples of general populations of workers over the 58 studies of workers in industrial sectors and/or occupations with relatively high occupational exposure to noise. The exposure was generally assessed with dosimetry, sound level meter, or official or company records; in the population-based studies, it was assessed with validated questions. Estimates of the prevalence of occupational exposure to noise are presented for all 65 included studies, by country, sex, 5-year age group, industrial sector, and occupation where feasible. The pooled prevalence of any (high) occupational exposure to noise (≥85dBA) among the general population of workers was 0.17 (95% confidence interval 0.16 to 0.19, 4 studies, 108,256 participants, 38 countries, two WHO regions, I2 98%, low quality of evidence). Subgroup analyses showed that pooled prevalence differed substantially by WHO region, sex, industrial sector, and occupation. Conclusions: Our systematic review and meta-analysis found that occupational exposure to noise is prevalent among general populations of workers. The current body of evidence is, however, of low quality, due to serious concerns for risk of bias and indirectness. Producing estimates of occupational exposure to noise nevertheless appears evidence-based, and the pooled effect estimates presented in this systematic review are suitable as input data for the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates (if feasible). Protocol identifier: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.09.040 PROSPERO registration number: CRD42018092272

Original languageEnglish
Article number106380
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Global burden of disease
  • Noise
  • Occupational risk factor
  • Prevalence
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)


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