In an audio conference hosted last week by Business & Legal Reports, hearing experts, safety consultants and others offered several elements for instituting a successful hearing loss prevention program.

I. Noise Measurement- OSHA and MSHA require you to implement an effective hearing loss prevention program if your employees experience noise levels in excess of 85-decibel (dB) time weighted average (TWA). If this is the case at your facility, determine which employees need to be involved in the program and what is necessary for the program to provide.

II. Noise Control- This element is your first approach to decreasing hearing hazards to your employees. Decide what, if any, things you are currently doing to reduce or eliminate hazards. The speakers suggest surveying employees to get their input on possible exposures.

III. Audiometric Testing- The purpose of the testing is to identify a small temporary change in hearing to prevent permanent hearing loss in the future. The speakers said to look for a change in the measure of a baseline test, one that is administered before an employee is exposed to a noise, against an annual test, one that is administered yearly. (Tip: For the most accurate measurement of hearing loss, conduct the annual test in the middle of the work shift, after the employee has been somewhat exposed to the noise, and not at the beginning when he or she has not been exposed that day.)

When conducting audiometric testing at your facility, make sure the testers are qualified, there is proper testing equipment, and the tests are given in a stable environment with no background noise.

IV. Hearing Protection Devices- The most important thing to know about these devices is that they are only effective when used correctly and routinely. These devices must attenuate to 85 dBA at the ear, and OSHA considers the employer responsible for proper selection and fitting of the equipment.

Can you overprotect your employees? Yes. If the equipment you select for your employee completely impairs the hearing, that person is a safety risk because they are unable to hear communications and alarms. Also, this employee is more likely to remove the hearing protection equipment so he or she can hear what they need to hear, leaving them exposed to the noise.

V. Training and Motivation- Training can vary depending on the types of noise and equipment used. Design your training to inspire your employees to take care of themselves. Make it personal. The most effective programs are the ones in which employees take the initiative because they care about their health. Hearing conservation training is required annually, but the speakers recommended that it be done more than annually.

VI. Recordkeeping- Use the testing data collected to drive the decisions about the management of your hearing loss prevention program.

VII. Program Evaluation- The speakers suggested using surveys, an annual inventory, and program checklist to look back over the entire course of the program to determine if you are preventing hearing loss at your facility.

For more information on becoming certified to conduct audiometric testing, see the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation''s Web site