Joe spotted Willie walking out of the cafeteria and hollered, “Willie, what are you all smiles about — what’s goin’ on man? And what do you have in your hand?”

“It’s my hearing test, Joe. I had to take it again because they thought I had a problem, a shift — you know an STS, or whatever they call it. They thought I was exposed to some loud noise right before my last one. Remember when I was working on that compressor and then I took my hearing test in the afternoon?”

Joe shook his head in agreement. “Yeah I remember, Willie. But how did the test come out this time?

“I don’t have the loss or the STS they thought I had, so I’m feelin’ good.”

“I’ll bet you are, Willie. You’re way too young to be sayin’ ‘huh’ or ‘what’ to us at work and to your wife and kids at home.”

“Yeah, that could get irritating,” said Willie. “I remember my grandma having to always repeat and shout to my grandpa — boy would she get mad and upset. I don’t want to end up like that — you know my grandpa worked in the same plant for 27 years.”

Joe studied Willie. “You don’t have to think about losing your hearing — you know how to protect it, right?”

“Yeah, I know, Joe — but sometimes I need to be reminded.”

Joe turned his head a bit to the side. “You know, Willie, I do have to do a better job enforcing hearing protection and coaching you guys. But don’t leave it all up to me. You guys can do a better job of coaching each other.”

A new messenger

Joe and Willie suddenly looked up to see Mary, the new nurse. Mary jumped right in to take over the hearing conservation program and she wasn’t at all shy. Joe saw an opportunity for someone else to do a little coaching about hearing protection. Sometimes he just didn’t seem to get through to the guys he supervised. It was as if he wore out his welcome and his message didn’t get through.

Both Willie and Joe greeted Mary warmly, and Joe seized his chance to let Mary take over.

Joe got it started. “Mary, did you know that Willie got some good news about his hearing test today?”

“I know,” said Mary. “Great, isn’t it?”

Both nodded and Mary followed Joe’s cue.

“We had four standard threshold shifts, or STSs, this year and that isn’t good.”

“What is that STS?” asked Willie.

Mary took a deep breath: “According to OSHA’s noise exposure standard, a Standard Threshold Shift, or STS, is defined as a change in hearing threshold, compared to the baseline audiogram for the employee, of an average of 10 decibels (dB) or more at 2000, 3000, and 4000 hertz (Hz) in one or both ears. It used to be 25 dB and OSHA lowered it.”

“But I’m OK, right?” asked Willie.

“No problem, Willie,” smiled Mary. “But it’s really a shame because most all of our hearing losses are very preventable. All you have to do is wear your protection as you were trained to do. And all of our high-noise areas are posted — it’s really that easy.”

Willie coiled a bit, “You think so, huh? But it’s not really. Sometimes it’s just too hot in some departments and sometimes you don’t think about your hearing because we’re just in and out of places so fast. Like the compressor area or when we’re around the contractors who are using the jackhammers. But in some ways you’re right, Mary, it doesn’t take much to protect your hearing.”

Joe stood back and simply watched the coaching session.

Mary continued, “This week ends our hearing conservation theme for the month and we need to make sure everyone’s on-board. You know we’ve changed around some of the lines, and noise levels have gone up in some areas, down in others. You’ve made your guys aware of the new noise exposure grid I posted by the cafeteria, haven’t you, Joe?”

“You bet. And we’ve moved the noise alert warnings to new spots in some cases, too,” said Joe.

Recruiting a leader

“Even with changes on the floor happening all the time, and maybe some new hazards popping up, people get a little too relaxed, especially our long-time employees,” said Mary. “Willie, I want you to be part of our new hearing conservation team.”

“What do I have to do, Mary?”

“Well, we’ll want you to help review some of the engineering changes and place possibilities on the board for even more changes. And we want to train some of you to be better coaches. You know, lead by example, correct people who ignore noise warnings in a constructive way, and start praising people for wearing hearing protection. We’d also like to put more hearing protectors in your trucks and secondary work areas so if you forget the hearing protection you use most of the time there will be more to use wherever you go. What do you think, Willie?”

“Sounds good to me,” Willie smiled. “It’s been a while since I volunteered for a safety team. Count me in. I don’t want any of those STSs on my hearing tests.”

Joe finally joined in. “You know Willie, hearing conservation was the theme this month, but really, our hearing protection program goes all year. It never ends. The training, the testing, the noise monitoring, making sure people are wearing their muffs and plugs when they should. To keep this kind of program going strong and everyone motivated we need good leadership from people like you. You’ve got seniority, you’re respected — people notice your attitude toward safety, and hearing protection. You know, a lot of people take their hearing for granted and just think noise is part of the job, nothing you can do about. Well, you can set an example. You’re concerned about your hearing. You don’t want to walk out of the plant one of these years like your grandpa, with folks having to yell at you to be heard. Help us spread the word. What do you say, Willie?”

Willie, who liked to joke around with his pal Joe, just stood there, looking at his boots. Silence. Mary looked over at Joe a bit confused.

“I said, Willie, what do you say?”

“Huh? Oh, did you say something, Joe? I couldn’t hear you.” Willie broke into a grin. “Maybe you should double check my STS.” He paused. “Just kidding,” he chuckled.