The Purpose of a Hearing Conservation Program

The human body can recover from a wide range of injuries. However, repeated exposure to hazardous noise can cause a permanent hearing loss that is not recoverable.

Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require that any work environment where employee 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) noise levels are greater than 85 dBA must establish a hearing conservation program.

Prevents Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Although UCSB tries to control worker exposures to noise levels below 85 dBA, some areas and operations can be hazardous. Under OSHA regulations, any employee whose 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) exposure or peak exposure exceeds these levels must be enrolled in the hearing conservation program. Enrollment includes providing free annual hearing exams and providing hearing protection to employees, along with training and recordkeeping requirements.

Education campaigns that promote use of hearing protectors, maximizing distance from sources of noise and limiting recreational exposure to noisy environments are effective ways to mitigate risks from occupational and recreational activities. In a study of rural school students, a 3-year hearing conservation program that included classroom instruction, distribution of HPD and yearly audiometric evaluations resulted in reduced NIHL compared to the controls. The program also improved student perception of the threat of NIHL and increased use of HPD. [32]

Prevents Injuries to the Ears

Occupational Health & Safety legislation across Canada requires that a hearing conservation program be implemented in the workplace when workers are exposed to noise levels above 85 dBA over an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). The goal of the program is to protect employee’s ears during exposures to loud sounds through engineering and administrative controls.

This includes ensuring that employees wear their hearing protection at all times and that it is properly fitted for them. In addition, it is also important to ensure that all employees are trained annually on the plant’s policies regarding hearing conservation.

A certified Occupational Hearing Conservationist (COHC) is an integral member of the hearing conservation team and performs pure tone air conduction audiometric testing, fits workers with proper hearing protection devices and educates those in the program on how to protect their hearing. They also provide training on noise surveying techniques, acoustic measurements and other areas of interest to the work environment.

Prevents Hearing Loss in Children

Unlike occupational hearing conservation programs (OHCPs), which address early signs of hearing loss, nonoccupational hearing conservation (NOHC) programs focus on preventing exposure to ototoxic and ototraumatic agents (most often noise) in persons of all ages. NOHC programs are often implemented in school-based settings where educational curricula may fail to include basic information about the effects of noise on hearing.

Although it is well recognized that youths and young adults are at high risk of noise-induced NIHL, there are very few studies evaluating the efficacy of education programs designed to prevent this problem. In one study, a combination of face-to-face and online intervention was found to be more effective than either approach alone in increasing knowledge of the risk of noise-induced NIHL and in encouraging use of personal hearing protection among a rural and farm youth population. This research was based on participant self-report and therefore vulnerable to social desirability bias. However, these results represent a significant advance in the development of NOHC programs for this underserved and vulnerable population.

Prevents Hearing Loss in Adults

Many of the same activities that cause hearing loss in children can lead to hearing loss in adults. This is why programs that prevent hearing loss in children also help prevent hearing loss in adults.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires hearing conservation programs for workplaces in which employees may be exposed to noise levels that exceed 85 dB on an 8-hour time-weighted average. An effective program includes monitoring, audiometric testing, education, and the issuance of hearing protective devices.

Audiologists play a vital role in these programs. They educate workers about the hazards of excessive noise exposure and the benefits of hearing protection, and they assist in implementing all aspects of the program. They should not derive financial or other benefit from the sale or recommendation of particular products and should remain impartial in their opinions. They can also participate in the development of curricula for school-aged children to raise awareness of the dangers of noise exposure.

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