In the U.S. there are 22 million workers exposed to potentially damaging noise each year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Protecting the hearing of the workforce is essential and one of the most important tasks of any manager involved with safety. A recent study conducted through self-report and researcher observation, showed that most individuals do not wear their hearing protection when being exposed to occupational noise. In fact, the results showed that on a two week average, employees reported they wore hearing protection only a “few times”. Over the years we have seen a steady increase in workers compensation claims, and for many companies, audiogram negative results have increased as well.
So, how does one ensure that their employees are being protected effectively, 100% of the time they are exposed to noise? The key is providing hearing protection that:
- Are comfortable and allow the workers to communicate while being protected
- Are compliant with the highest standards and regulations providing the safety managers with peace of mind
- Help the company with their Corporate Social Responsibility program (CSR) by being eco-friendly and improving the lives of people. No one should become deaf due to occupational noise exposure
Lack of comfort is one of the main reasons employees remove their Hearing Protection Device (HPD). It is essential to the employee that they are provided with a hearing protector that is comfortable. Ideally workers should want to wear their HPD.
Communication is a key factor that employees should consider as well. No one in the workplace spends an 8-hour shift without speaking with each other or receiving verbal instructions from a supervisor.
Another important part is providing employees with hearing protection that is compliant with OSHA regulation and the Hearing Conservation Program. Not all devices are created equal, so keep that in mind when choosing a hearing protection device. In case you chose a custom molded earplug, both the protector and the filter must be ANSI compliant.
Last, but not least, hearing protection must be clean and eco-friendly. Taking care of the planet is as important as taking care of our people. If working in a dirty and or moist environment – an employee must have hearing protection that reduces the risk of infections or debris buildup.
All of these are key aspects to consider when choosing the right hearing protection device for the worker, the safety manager and the company.
However, just providing the device is not enough. At-risk employees must be made aware of the damage that noise can cause to their body. Studies show that this kind of damage is not only physiological, but also a strong determinant of stress.
Another issue a manager involved in safety may face is a plethora of excuses as to why they are not using Hearing Protection Devices (HPD’s). In such cases, the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) has created a helpful list of excuses and answers:
“I’ve already lost some hearing.”
“Hearing protection devices can help prevent further hearing loss.”
“I'm used to the noise.”
“The ear cannot get used to noise. Instead, this may be a sign of a mild hearing loss.”
“Hearing protection devices are uncomfortable.”
“Let’s find a style more comfortable for extended wear. A properly fitted device should be comfortable all day”
“I can’t hear my coworkers.”
“ If you use a hearing protection device, you will hear sounds (eg. Voices, machinery) differently. But these devices reduce background noise along with the signals you want to hear. It may require and adjustment, but most users can still hear the signals they want to hear while wearing these devices. We can find one with the right amount of noise reduction for you.”
“My machine sounds different.”
“it may take time to find the right hearing protection devices with enough protection – but not too much – and adjust to the new way things sound. Let’s try a device that provides less noise reduction”.
“I’ll get an ear infection”
“we’ll find a solution that will help minimize the chances of you getting an ear infection.”
“I’ll hurt my eardrums if I insert my earplugs too deeply.”
“You will not damage your ear drums with the right HPD.”
“I’ll just get a hearing aid.”
“Hearing aids cannot restore normal hearing.”
Ensuring that our employees are 100% protected may not be an easy task, but we must work hard to educate and raise awareness of occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing loss is 100% preventable and gradual. Since the results are not perceptible immediately – it does not mean that individuals are in the clear.
A robust hearing protection program should consider all of the steps above and create a comprehensive plan that includes audiograms and awareness training. This way, employees get a better sense of how occupational noise can impact their well-being and eventually change their life if preventive action is not taken. Let’s make zero occupational hearing loss a reality!
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