Trends in ... hearing protection
Avoid the hazards of ‘cumulative exposure’
Are you concerned about on-the-job hearing loss? It’s a common problem among workers in the United States. In fact, every year, roughly 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, according to NIOSH. Additionally, more than 30 million workers are “exposed to chemicals, some of which are harmful to the ear (ototoxic) and hazardous to hearing,” the agency states.
Here, industry insiders discuss new trends in the hearing protection field, and what workers need to know to protect their hearing.
Pointing out that global untreated hearing loss is at an “all-time high,” Garry G. Gordon, an audiologist and CEO and instructor at Boulder, CO-based E.A.R. Inc., said a growing trend in hearing protection relates to “hearing protection (filtered or electronic) that enables an employee to hear critical sounds and, in some cases, be tied into radio communications, etc.”
Gordon explained that employees who wear hearing aids at home often need the same kind of protection on the job, and that “new technology is being created daily in the hearing aid industry, and similar technology is also being discovered in the hearing protection market. These include both electronic and filtered devices that work for both impact and continuous sounds.”
Anthony Di Giovanni, vice president of marketing for Latham, NY-based Protective Industrial Products Inc., said that hearing protection manufacturers are focusing on electronic earmuffs that block out dangerous levels of sound while allowing safe ambient sound. “This helps by allowing a still-protected worker to communicate with other workers and remain aware of their surroundings,” Di Giovanni added. He also spoke of advancements in earplug technology. “Foam technology is seeing people moving away from PVC cylindrical plugs with nearly all foam plugs going to PU (polyurethane) in various shapes and sizes to accommodate a wider demographic of workers.”
“Hearing loss is often a result of cumulative exposure,” Di Giovanni said, noting that improperly wearing hearing protection happens in a variety of ways. “Often you will see a worker wear one muff on an ear and the other one off the side in order to allow him or her to communicate with another worker.” He added that workers often don’t insert earplugs correctly. “Most workers may not know or do not take the time to properly fit an earplug,” he said.
Keeping workers safe
It’s important for workers to understand the harmful effects of exposure to hazardous noise over long periods of time, Di Giovanni cautioned. “Much of our grandfathers’ loss of hearing in old age was likely caused by long-term exposure at a time where we did not fully understand the dangers,” he said. “Today, we are seeing more litigation around hearing loss in the workplace and it is sensitizing both workers and companies to train and test workers to ensure they are not suffering from overexposure due to the conditions or incorrect use of PPE.”
Protecting workers’ hearing takes time and effort on the part of employers, but the end result is a safer workforce. “Of utmost importance is providing adequate protection that enables an employee to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss and at the same time not diminish the need for situational awareness,” Gordon said.