R&D Portfolio - Research Goal 1.2 : Develop a practical guide for preventing occupational hearing loss
Often it is not clear to employers, especially small employers, that they need a HLPP. They need guidance to establish and maintain an effective one. Some components of the recommended program are common among employers with noisy work environments, but others are not. There is a need for comprehensive guidance for employers and safety and health professionals regarding hearing loss prevention.
Practical guides are designed to transfer technical recommendations to end users, especially employers and workers. HLR program research staff work with technical information and health communication specialists to provide useful information that is based on HLR program science.
Working in consultation with safety and hearing health professionals, labor, and industry, the HLR program developed, “Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss: A Practical Guide” in 1990. The document provided step-by-step guidance regarding effective hearing conservation practices. It was designed to help occupational safety and health personnel and other managers implement the OSHA hearing conservation amendment. It also served to help workers understand his or her role in hearing preservation.
In 1996, NIOSH published a revised “Practical Guide.” This revision promoted two new concepts: (1) initiating a terminology shift from hearing conservation to hearing loss prevention, (2) changing the focus from preventing noise-induced hearing loss to preventing occupational hearing loss. The first concept challenged the health and safety community to become pro-active in preventing occupational hearing loss as opposed to recording the progression of hearing loss and conserving residual hearing. The second concept was designed to alert safety and health community to the emerging recognition that exposure to certain chemicals, heavy metals, and asphyxiates could cause permanent hearing loss.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, it emphasized the need for a national hearing loss registry. This need was first articulated in 1988 in the NIOSH “Proposed National Strategies for the Prevention of Leading Work-Related Diseases and Injuries.” The purpose for emphasizing this concept was to stimulate the development of a means for recording and tracking significant hearing threshold shifts attributable to occupational exposures. This would provide a much needed means for determining the effectiveness of hearing loss prevention efforts.
Drafts of the 1996 document were publicly reviewed and focus-group tested at a meeting of the NHCA. OSHA, NHCA, and the HLR program developed a plan in February, 2005 to jointly revise the document and promote it specifically to small businesses. OSHA has worked with the HLR program and NHCA in a new alliance to create a new e-tool that highlights the hearing loss prevention needs of small businesses.
In 2006, NIOSH will formally join the OSHA/NHCA Alliance. Its purpose is to repackage or create hearing loss prevention training materials that will assist employers and hearing health professionals. The “Practical Guide” and particularly the hearing conservation program evaluation checklist may be repackaged to meet the specific needs of small business employers. It would then be made available to small businesses through the NIOSH, OSHA, and NHCA websites, and through associated trade partners such as hearing protector manufacturers and producers of audiometric and sound measurement equipment.