Why I Love Hearing Conservation

blog_logoAt first glance, if not familiar with the term, one may think this title reads “Why I love hearing conversation” and wonder who in their right mind wouldn’t love hearing conversation. I mean, that’s the whole point of conversation, right? To be able to hear it? In reality, Hearing Conservation is exactly that; teaching people to protect their hearing so that they can hear conversation and other important sounds. Often we don’t think of it in those terms, however hearing conservation programs in the workplace are designed with just that goal in mind.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines in place to protect workers who are exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels over an 8 hour period. The guidelines for protection against the effects of noise exposure also include that the employer have an effective hearing conservation program in place for workers exposed to high levels of noise. Such a program should include noise monitoring, annual audiometric testing, hearing protection and education on the effects of noise exposure.

According to the Department of Labor, every year thousands of workers suffer from hearing loss due to high occupational noise levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites occupational hearing loss as “the most common work-related illness in the United States”. Noise induced hearing loss is not reversible but it is 100% preventable. Engineering controls, administrative controls and hearing protection devices are at the heart of a well-designed hearing conservation program. Using these controls to reduce hazardous noise exposure can prevent permanent hearing loss and the psychological stress that accompanies the inability to effectively communicate.

This is why I love hearing conservation. Through education and training, both the employer and the employee benefit. As employees learn of the effects of noise on hearing they become more conscious of the serious implications hearing loss can have not only on communication, but also on the ability to socialize or enjoy their children or grandchildren. When employees learn how hearing loss can be prevented they become motivated to be more proactive about wearing their hearing protection correctly or submitting ideas for effective engineering controls to block excessive work place noise. The employers not only see more engaged employees, but they also begin to see less noise related workplace accidents or injuries.

So it does all start and end with conversation. Conversations about the physiology of the ear, how hearing works, what causes hearing loss and how to prevent noise induced hearing loss. By having those conversations we enable our workers to hear other conversations; conversations about fishing with a grandson, what to do on family vacation, the affection expressed on an anniversary from one’s spouse or just the sweet sound of laughter at a family dinner. The truth is an effective hearing conservation program enables conversations to happen.