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On average, 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace each year. To protect these workers from developing hearing loss due to these exposures, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires implementation of hearing conservation programs for individuals exposed to hazardous noise levels and requires companies to supply their employees with a suitable variety of hearing protectors.

For the average individual with normal hearing, hearing protectors will likely improve their ability to hear in these loud environments as compared to not wearing hearing protection (Berger, 2010). However, this is not the case when an individual has a moderate to severe hearing impairment. For these individuals, hearing protection will likely decrease their ability to hear coworkers, as well as safety alarms, and often cause them to remove the hearing protectors which will eventually lead to further damage to their hearing. The good news is, there are several different types of attenuators that can be used to protect the hearing-impaired worker. Some of these options include flat attenuators (both custom and non-custom), active/electronic earmuffs, as well as hearing protection that can plug into various communication systems.

Flat Attenuators (custom and non-custom): The average hearing protector attenuates more in high frequencies than in low frequencies. This can cause additional communication problems for the hearing-impaired worker as it is likely they already have a high frequency hearing deficit. A flat attenuator will provide approximately the same attenuation across all frequencies allowing for the hearing-impaired worker to better hear co-workers and safety alarms.

Active (Electronic) Earmuffs: This type of hearing protector will amplify ambient sounds up to about 82 dB. Once the sound in the environment reaches 82 dB, the device will block the incoming sound to protect the worker.

 

Hearing protection with integrated communications (earplugs – custom and non-custom and earmuffs): This type of hearing protector will provide protection from hazardous noise but can be wired to a radio or communication system. There are also wireless options available.

 

The right choice of hearing protection will vary from person-to-person and should be chosen based on a variety of factors including the worker’s communication needs, the level and frequency of exposure, as well as what the employee finds comfortable increasing their chances of wearing them both correctly and consistently.

For more information regarding hearing protection, please reach out to Dr. Brooke Gordon at (919) 459-5224 or bgordon@ei1.com.

Resources
1.  https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib122705.html
2.  https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_deafness.cfm
3. 
http://askjan.org

References
Berger, E. H. (2010). Hearing Through the Protectors. Industrial Hygiene News. July/August 2010, Vol. 33 No. 4, 8 -14.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (1970). Occupational safety and health standards: Occupational health and environmental control (Standard No. 1910.95). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9735