By Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA and Amanda Terminello, MPH

Every year 22 million workers are at risk of losing their hearing from workplace noise hazards. Work-related hearing loss is a widespread problem, but it is a problem that can be solved. On August 1, 2016, NIOSH, OSHA, and MSHA issued a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs with the dual goals of inspiring creative ideas and raising business awareness of the market for workplace safety innovation. More than 30 entries were submitted and the top ten were invited to present their ideas at the Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge event on October 27, 2016. A panel of judges consisting of business experts, investors, and innovation specialists listened to pitches, asked questions, and selected three winners based on the assumed effectiveness of the solution combined with its commercial viability. This blog entry is the first in a three-part series summarizing the solutions presented by the Challenge winners and finalists. References to products or services do not constitute an endorsement by NIOSH or the U.S. government.

1st Prize Winner:  Nick Laperle and Jeremie Voix

In a noisy environment, workers have a dangerous choice: protecting their hearing or being able to communicate with team members. It is a conundrum Nick Laperle has pondered for a long time. His parents were pioneers in establishing hearing health clinics across Quebec. The meal time conversation in the Laperle household swirled around ears and decibels. Not surprisingly, Mr. Laperle has been working in hearing-related industries and has been involved with international organizations to eradicate noise-induced hearing loss for the last twenty years.

When he founded his own company, he took on the challenge of both blocking dangerous noise and enabling communication in loud environments. It is something that traditional or standard hearing protection does not currently allow. He also wanted to create a product that could monitor how well the hearing protection fits in users’ ears because workers are not generally aware of whether or not their hearing protection is adequate. Mr. Laperle recruited Jeremie Voix to lead the technical development of the project. Dr. Voix, publisher of over 65 research articles and 15 designs and patents, began developing innovative algorithms to enhance the auditory experience.

At the Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge, Mr. Laperle and Dr. Voix presented EERS, an industrial IoT (Internet of Things) device designed to provide industrial hearing protection, high noise communication, and monitoring. The EERS hardware includes noise-blocking ear plugs that connect to a small monitor that is worn on the worker’s body. The earplugs contain in-ear microphones with Bluetooth connectivity that allow for clear phone or radio communication. EERS analyzes the fit and protection level when a worker inserts the earplugs. If the earplugs aren’t fitted properly at any point during the day, an auditory signal warns the worker to refit the earplugs.

The EERS monitor continuously tracks and stores data regarding the use of the device. Workers’ protection levels are continuously logged and wirelessly transmitted. If any issues arise, the system sends warnings to management so they can take corrective measures as needed. An optional smartphone app can also provide educational information to workers while enabling them to personally monitor their hearing health.

“We’ve been focused on one goal,” Mr. Laperle explained: “To develop a system that will end this problem at a price to fit every H and S [health and safety] budget. With EERS, a worker can communicate and stay protected at all times, a health and safety administrator can review reports on the status of their worker’s hearing health, and an executive can sleep well knowing hearing loss is being addressed for his workers and the company.”

Mr. Laperle and Dr. Voix are rolling out the beta program with three manufacturing companies in early 2017 and are currently exploring opportunities to promote and further this innovative hearing solution.

The panel of judges selected Mr. Laperle and Dr. Voix as the winners of the Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge. For Mr. Laperle, it was another step down the path his parents had blazed across Quebec all those years ago.

More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website:

2nd Prize Winner: Brendon Dever

When Brendon Dever started in the construction industry, he noticed that products designed to protect workers were not necessarily keeping pace with modern technology. He saw an empty space in the occupational safety and health market for innovative solutions to common safety and health problems. He pulled together a team of engineers and designers and set out to tackle a problem that is prominent in construction (as well as in many other industries):...Click here to read the rest of the blog post.