We all know military families make immense sacrifices for our country. What’s startling to find out is that, more and more, military members are sacrificing something we tend to take for granted: Their hearing.
Disability claims for hearing damage are on the rise in the military. In fact, hearing damage is the most common disability among military members returning from combat in the last 10 years. Military members wear protective footwear and clothing, so why is hearing protection so overlooked?
A common-sense hearing conservation program was needed, so the Department of Defense charged the Government Accountability Office to study this issue and report back on ways that hearing loss can be avoided. What they found can be used in your business to improve your own hearing conservation program.
The GAO’s recommendations can be applied to any hearing conservation program. They are:
1. Address issues with the type, timing and tracking of training and education.
2. Develop an appropriate set of performance indicators.
3. Improve processes to collect and use performance data.
4. Examine services’ reviews to identify opportunities for program improvement.
To summarize, the GAO found that the most important and most effective way to promote hearing conservation was to properly train people on the proper use of hearing protection - before they are exposed to hazardous noise.
Another important factor: Much can be gained from the study of what is causing hearing loss for your employees. Audiometric testing can be used to find this out. Measure the exposure levels after any change in the working conditions (environment, equipment, process, length of shift, etc), and then document the effect of that change. Is it causing hearing loss in your workers or improving it?
Measuring the amount of protection provided by earplugs is a relatively new option and is now a leader in determining hearing conservation programs’ effectiveness. So test to find out - are earplugs doing enough? Or are they falling short of the protection your employees need? The best way to test this is in-ear monitoring, as well as repeat-fit testing.
Once the appropriate protection is determined for each job task, the best way to make sure your employees use the correct protection is by identifying it. A helmet sticker, uniform patch or some other marker is a great way to identify which earplugs are the right ones for that particular employee.
The best way to monitor whether your hearing conservation program is being followed - and whether it is effective - is not by checking attendance at training sessions. Rather, the best way is to use these techniques discussed - in-ear monitoring, audiometric testing, and repeat-fit testing.
These are the methods being used by the U.S. military to put an end to a growing problem. The hearing conservation community has always looked to the military for the best practices when it comes to issues such as these. Following the military’s lead has led to great results in the past, and doing so on this issue will surely lead to the same in the future.