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NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
NIOSH Hearing Loss Research Program Review NIOSH Publications on Noise and Hearing The National Academies - Advisors to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

What does the HLR Program Do?

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Research Goal 1

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R&D Portfolio - Research Goal 1.5 : Develop a hearing loss simulator

Changing behavior is difficult. Encouraging the proper use of hearing protective devices has been especially challenging for a variety of reasons. One of the more subtle reasons is a lack of motivation. Although no one desires poor hearing, occupational hearing loss occurs so gradually that the prospect of it in the future may not be sufficient to bring about action in the present, especially with the many other duties to which a busy worker must attend. Methods for improving awareness and motivation to encourage preventive behaviors are needed.

The HLR program developed a hearing loss simulator to demonstrate that hearing loss is both a likely and a severe consequence of excessive noise exposure. A team of behavioral scientists and software designers guided development of the simulator from an early prototype to a full-featured software package containing supporting documentation and training guidelines. The simulator is a Windows-based computer program that allows a trainer or user to “dial in” varying amounts of noise exposure to demonstrate the predicted resulting damage to hearing. The predictions are based on the empirically-validated models contained in the ANSI S3.44 standard. The simulator shows the effects of noise visually through a graphic display of the frequencies or pitches most affected by noise. This helps to convey the high-frequency tell-tale “noise notch” in a noise-damaged worker’s hearing test. More importantly, the simulator provides an auditory demonstration of noise-induced hearing loss. It contains pre-recorded spoken messages that become progressively harder to understand as the effects of hearing impairment are added. The simulator also allows the trainer to add background noises into the mix, including a variety of mining, construction, and shop machinery. These noises exacerbate the difficulty of comprehending the spoken message, further emphasizing the severity of hearing loss. By leading a trainee through a series of scenarios, the simulator shows how noise-induced hearing loss has profound effects on communication, recognition of safety signals, and quality of life.

In evaluation trials with coal miners, quarry workers, and technical support staff, the simulator produced successful results. For instance, a reaction study with 58 miners gave highly positive responses to the simulator. An attitude and knowledge change evaluation with 89 miners and support staff showed significant increases in hearing loss prevention knowledge and intentions to take more effective hearing conservation actions after experiencing the simulator.

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