Q&A - Hearing protection

September 1, 2005
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QUESTION:

“Despite employers’ efforts, workers continue to experience noise-induced hearing loss. What are some common barriers to effective hearing protection and how can my workplace overcome them?”

ANSWERS:

The best way to increase compliance is to properly educate employees and have them “buy into the program.” Offer employees a choice of hearing protectors so they can pick the device they like best.

Jeffrey Birkner, MS, CIH, Vice President of Technical Services, Moldex-Metric, Inc.


Two obstacles that prevent workers from getting adequate protection are improper fit and compromised wear time. When properly inserted, the end of most earplugs should not be visible to someone looking at you from the front.

Brad Witt, Audiology & Regulatory Affairs Manager, Howard Leight Industries


The possibility of noise-induced hearing loss from “off the job” activities is increasing as a plethora of new music player options join the list of avocations that can damage an employee’s hearing. The employer has a unique opportunity and, I feel, responsibility to educate employees of the consequences of loud music. Companies with hearing conservation programs have knowledgeable, trained resources who can educate their workforce in the long-term effects of hearing loss.

Jack Foreman, Tremetrics Product Manager, Tremetrics


Strategically placed, well illuminated educational warning signage activated by pre-programmed type II area sound level meters serve the dual purpose of educating employees, while alerting them to a level of danger they might not readily perceive.

John O’Brien, Manager, Technical Support, Extech Instruments


With the best of intentions, the current Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) system proscribed by the EPA impedes safety directors in the proper choice of hearing protectors. This single-number measure often overshadows issues more critical to worker acceptance and usage including comfort, ease of use and proper fit and can potentially lead to overprotection, i.e. blocking too much noise. However, some noises on the job should be heard, including vocal communications, emergency instructions and alarms. Look for hearing protection systems that help ensure appropriate levels of protection for the noise hazards your employees face.

Brian Myers, Sr. Marketing Director, EAR & Peltor Hearing Protection


Workers need to be trained in the proper use — and motivation — of earplugs. Full-time use when working in noisy environments is essential.

Roland Westerdal, President, Elvex Corp.


Review the following factors: Choice — Since everyone is different offer various types and sizes of hearing protectors and let people choose. Proper fit — This can make the difference between getting good protection and almost none. Constant wear — Many people remove earplugs to talk, take a break, or have lunch in areas where they still need hearing protection. Review instructions — Everyone should understand the proper way to insert earplugs and position muffs.

Jim Byrnes, Product Manager of Hearing Protection, MSA


Hearing loss isn’t like other injuries. Typically, it happens over a long period of time and isn’t the result of a specific incident. As a result, it often gets overlooked. Raising awareness is the first step to overcoming workplace hearing loss.

Kenneth E. Love, Pres., Gateway Safety


Actual worker protection levels may not be as high or low as indicated by single-number noise reduction ratings such as NRR. Over-protection can lead to worker resistance to wearing HPDs where required, while under-protection can go undetected without an understanding of both the frequency content of the workplace noise and the frequency-specific attenuation characteristics of the hearing protector.

Determining workplace-specific noise levels present at different frequencies within the human hearing range and then choosing the HPD based on its frequency-specific attenuation properties can be the opportunity to overcome all of these identified causes for continued noise-induced hearing loss. The use of handheld real-time frequency analyzers enables this alternative approach to hearing protector selection.

Laura L. Cooley, Senior Marketing Services Specialist, Quest Technologies, Inc.

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