Trends in ... hearing protection

Sound advice for preventing hearing loss

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

Hearing loss should never be considered an acceptable part of any occupation. According to NIOSH, “Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable but once acquired, hearing loss is permanent and irreversible. Therefore, prevention measures must be taken by employers and workers to ensure the protection of workers’ hearing.”

How many people are affected?

OSHA’s website states that, every year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to work-related hazardous noise.

Ted Madison, a technical service specialist at St. Paul, MN-based 3M, said, “Fit-testing systems are now available that allow employers to measure the personal attenuation rating obtained by each individual worker, rather than making assumptions about the noise reduction provided by hearing protectors.”

And because people are becoming more aware of the fact the one size does not fit all with regard to hearing protection devices, Madison noted that “employees must be able to try on and select from a wide variety of hearing protectors, including several types of insert earplugs, earmuffs and other devices.”

This is critical because proper use of hearing protection is a bigger problem than many might think. “Recent studies of fit-testing programs indicate that as many as one-third of earplug users need additional training, or need to switch to a different model of earplug in order to obtain sufficient noise reduction,” Madison said.

And, as with any type of personal protective equipment, compliance can present a challenge. “Poor fit may result from employees not following the fitting instructions or wearing devices that are not the proper size or shape to fit the employees’ ears,” Madison said.

Fortunately, technological strides have been made to aid in high-noise environments. “Compact, in-the-ear communication systems combine hearing protection with electronic communication technology to facilitate face-to-face and radio communication,” Madison said. “The need for boom microphones is eliminated by using an in-the-ear microphone to pick up the wearer’s voice without excessive background noise interference.”

Although this new equipment is a step forward, the fact remains that no one is immune to hearing loss if they work in a high-noise industry, so proper precautions must be taken. 

A warning from OSHA sums up how occupational hearing loss can creep up: “Although noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational illnesses, it is often ignored because there are no visible effects, it usually develops over a long period of time and, except in very rare cases, there is no pain.”

Do not regret later something you can prevent now.

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