July 13, 2004
Citing a National Health Interview Survey that shows hearing problems among individuals aged 45-64 are up 26 percent over the past 30 years and calling for a new approach by safety professionals, Bill Sokol, vice president strategic marketing for Bacou-Dalloz™, said, "In spite of growing awareness of hearing loss and increased efforts to combat it, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss among industrial workers continues to rise."
Sokol also said that safety professionals need to look beyond traditional noise reduction ratings in protective equipment; consider the human factors that undermine hearing conservation efforts; and look at new technologies.
The first step, Sokol said, is to help workers understand and care about hearing protection. "For many workers, hearing loss is a remote threat at best. Many people don't realize that the impact of hazardous noise is cumulative, and even brief periods without protection can generate real, lasting hearing loss. This requires an educational effort."
Safety officers must also make sure hearing protection devices are comfortable, convenient to use, and fitted correctly.
The biggest need Sokol sees is to enhance a worker's ability to communicate while wearing hearing protection on the job. "It's ironic," he said, "that in order to protect workers from permanent hearing loss, we subject them to temporary hearing loss." Sokol cited a growing body of research that suggests links between the inability to hear while wearing hearing protection and industrial accidents. Also, workers who cannot communicate easily feel more isolated on the job and are less likely to be contented and productive.