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Open Ears – Hearing Conservation Programs

Symbol for danger of NIHL (Noise-Induced Heari...

Employees who work in noisy environments need to understand the steps they can take to protect their hearing. A comprehensive hearing safety training program provides them with the information they need.

OSHA says that if employees are regularly exposed to noise levels above 85 dB, they must be required to wear hearing protection. They must also be trained in the potential hazards of noise exposure and appropriate protective measures.

Your hearing conservation training program must include:

  • Information on the effects of noise on hearing
  • The purposes of hearing protectors, including their advantages and disadvantages; the level of protection provided by various types; and instructions on their selection, fitting, use, and care
  • The purpose of audiometric testing and an explanation of testing procedures

Training should also identify symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss, such as:

  • Persistent tinnitus or ringing in the ears
  • The sensation of muffled hearing after a work shift
  • Difficulty understanding conversation in groups or noisy surroundings
  • The sense that people are mumbling

An explanation of the hearing-loss process is also a good idea. Some trainers like to use the metaphor of grass to represent the tiny sensory (or “hair”) cells of the inner ear. Usually, blades of grass will straighten up after they’ve been bent from being walked on. However, if one continues to tread on the same patch day after day, the grass will eventually die, leaving a bare spot. That’s similar to what happens to the ear’s hair cells over time when assaulted by high-decibel sound.

Make Training Stick

To make hearing conservation training memorable, it has to extend beyond the formal sessions. Supervisors should routinely make sure that earplugs are inserted correctly; check earmuffs, headbands, and cushions; and ask employees about their use and comfort.

It’s also important for supervisors to motivate employees to wear their protection whenever necessary. A simple yet valuable technique for motivating employees to wear hearing protection is to explain their audiometric test results to them, perhaps comparing a current audiogram to a previous test and comparing it with a “normal” result. If threshold levels are deteriorating, it’s time to remind the worker about fitting and wearing hearing protection.

Supervisors should be sensitive to unusual situations as well. For example, some workers may be fearful that wearing the protector could make them unable to hear a malfunctioning machine, or could compromise their ability to communicate. There are, however, special types of hearing protectors that are specially designed to facilitate communication and thus might be an appropriate solution.

And some employers have found that workers comply better with hearing protection rules when their families are involved. Businesses may choose to provide audiometric tests for spouses and children. This gets people talking about hearing protection on and off the job.

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Categories: Safety, Training

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