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This is Part II in our two part series entitled “Noise and Hearing Loss Increase Risk of Occupational Injury.”
In Part I of this 2 part blog series, we discussed two well-designed studies published in 2015, in which direct correlations were found between noise exposure levels, hearing loss and risk of injury.
Upon reading these study results, the question remains…
So where does this leave us?
First, the authors rightly point out the importance of reducing noise exposure through engineering controls. The lower the environmental noise level, the lower the risk of injury.
Second, the authors state that “these results underscore the importance of carefully examining the communication needs of hearing-impaired workers and workers with tinnitus who are exposed to workplace noise.”
In considering this second statement, I would add three more:
First, carefully evaluate what hearing protectors are provided, especially for those persons with significant hearing loss and tinnitus. Many employers choose earplugs with a high Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) under the mistaken assumption that more is better. More often than is generally realized, higher-NRR earplugs provide too much noise reduction thus compromising the worker’s situational awareness, ability to hearing warning sounds, ability to hear the machine make strange noises before it malfunctions and ability to hear and understand verbal communication. Hearing protectors providing too much noise reduction, especially for those with hearing loss, can create safety issues which can be at least partially mitigated by providing hearing protectors more appropriate for the noise environment.
Approximately 75% of this nation’s noise-exposed workers are exposed to less than 95 dBA TWA. Thus, three out of four workers only need less than 15 dB of real-world hearing protection. Virtually any well-fitting, consistently worn earplug will provide at least that amount. Concentrate more on proper fit, comfort and ease of use rather than NRR, focusing more on lower-NRR earplugs.
Second, consider the judicious use of electronic hearing protectors, especially if audibility is job-critical. There is good evidence that electronic hearing protectors provide significant speech recognition benefits compared to passive hearing protectors, and that the benefit is greater for workers with more hearing loss.
And third, consider involving an Audiologist when evaluating the needs of the hearing-impaired. This is the Audiologist’s area of expertise.