Hearing Conservation for Hearing Impaired Workers

Hearing Conservation for Hearing Impaired Workers

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One of the most frequently asked questions during our seminars and in our VeriPRO presentations is about occupational Hearing Conservation for workers with an existing hearing loss.

Yes, even workers with a hearing impairment are required to be covered by your company’s hearing conservation program. It is important to still protect and preserve whatever hearing those workers do have.

The challenge is that there is no one single solution for all hearing-impaired workers. Each case must be managed with personal attention to the needs of that worker. 

 

There are many factors that are different for each worker. Those factors include:

  • Degree of hearing impairment
  • Type of hearing loss
  • Job tasks
  • Noise level
  • Work environment
  • Communication needs
  • Motivation to protect hearing

Hearing Protection Solutions
There are solutions (or at least accommodations) that can work for hearing impaired workers.

  • Uniform Attenuating Hearing Protectors: Unlike traditional hearing protection that decreases high frequencies much more than low frequencies (like a graphic equalizer filtering out high frequencies), uniform attenuation hearing protectors are more like a volume control, turning down all frequencies about equally. Uniform attenuation hearing protectors usually provide less overall attenuation but that is what is needed for hearing-impaired workers. 
  • Sound Restoration Hearing Protectors: Electronic circuitry amplifies quiet ambient sounds but when noise approaches or exceeds a hazardous level (about 80-83 dB), they provide traditional noise-blocking attenuation.
  • Communication Earmuffs or Earplugs: Provide one-way or two-way communication. These communication systems could solve many problems for the hearing-impaired worker.
  • Hearing Aids (sometimes!): Some hearing aids can provide adequate attenuation when turned off.  But this is a difficult solution to manage in the workplace.  Hearing aids can also be worn under earmuffs,  but again, only in carefully managed situations. 
  • Active Noise Reduction (ANR): This technology has limited applicability in industry.  But for low-frequency dominant noise exposures, noise cancellation might be a solution for both normal hearing and hearing-impaired workers.

Remember that the risk of overprotection must be considered to ensure a safe work environment for hearing-impaired workers. Measuring the individual attenuation using a fit-testing system such as VeriPRO or others can help select the earplug with the appropriate amount of attenuation.

One way to show workers that they are protected with moderate amounts of attenuation might be using in-ear dosimetry to measure their exact dose of hazardous noise over several shifts of work. QuietDose is a hearing protector and in-ear noise dosimeter in one that measures exactly how much noise is getting to the user’s eardrum. Studies show that with less than 50% dose of hazardous noise, almost everyone is protected from noise-induced hearing loss.

Blog Author:  Theresa Y. Schulz  Ph.D.  Lt. Col. USAF (retired)  
Blog Catagories:  Hearing Impairment  

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