Emerging Issues - Research Goal 1
Contribute to the Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of
Effective Hearing Loss Prevention Programs
Training tools based on social psychology have proven to be effective for communicating hearing loss prevention messages to worker populations such as carpenters and other construction workers. The future challenges will be to translate the lessons learned from reaching one audience to reaching more diverse audiences. Because of a unique opportunity to partner with the U.S. Navy and the University of Washington, our near-term efforts will focus on reaching shipyard construction workers. Research questions which need to be addressed include: Will the same training and motivational elements be effective with workers in other sectors? How can a hearing loss prevention program be designed to communicate to the broad spectrum of ages and to those who have already suffered a hearing loss? The work to create and evaluate effective training materials is one of the components of the HLR program that is further down the path in the effort to translate research findings into a comprehensible message that can be practiced in the workplace.
Conduct economic cost/benefit analyses of hearing conservation programs/noise controls
Occupational safety and health managers often lack the evidence for the cost-effectiveness of engineering noise control solutions and hearing conservation programs in order to aggressively pursue full implementation. Cost-benefit analysis tools could be used to demonstrate the advantages of comprehensive hearing loss prevention programs for specific industrial case studies. The results of the case study analyses could be transferred to safety and health professionals through downloadable electronic documents made available on the NIOSH internet website and through other venues for information transfer.
Establish a centralized repository of audiometric data that can be accessed by professionals
For over ten years the HLR program has recognized that one of the problems facing itinerant workforces is the inability to track the status of their hearing ability. Past efforts to develop a practical system where workers could carry their health data with them were limited by technology. However, with newer smart card/chip technology and the internet, the concept of workers carrying a key fob or a smart card which includes biometric identification technology is now more feasible. Establishing such a program could develop the repository of audiometric data, job description information, and provide workers with an access method. This information would enable providers to have access to more comprehensive hearing test results. Hearing conservation data may be able to be integrated with new national initiatives to centralize all medical records. NIOSH needs to be proactive and be sure that hearing information (as well as all occupational health information) is incorporated into the new national databases.
Collaborate with partners in education to reach young workers with prevention
information and skills
NIOSH is a member of the Wise Ears!® program that was developed at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Wise Ears!® was intended to reach school-aged children with health communication messages to promote healthy hearing. NIOSH is also working to develop materials and curricula that will target young workers to make them aware of the consequences harmful noise exposures.
Strengthen efforts to transfer and disseminate information
The new NIOSH Research to Practice (r2p) initiative focuses on the transfer and translation of research findings, technologies, and information into prevention practices and products for the workplace. The HLR program will use r2p to strengthen its communication efforts with workers about hearing health risks. Some specific examples of this include:
- Develop guidelines to train workers to maximize residual hearing (e.g., listening strategies, lip-reading, optimal utilization of hearing aids, use of alternative communication methods). This research need was identified in the 1998 criteria document. The recommendation resulted from focus group study participants who indicated the extent of their reliance on non-verbal communication techniques. Because these techniques must be learned, new workers in particular may be at a disadvantage and possibly at increased risk for accidents. Training in nonverbal communication techniques could be useful for hearing-impaired workers.
- Develop guidelines defining hearing-critical jobs. Consistent and reliable methods of determining minimum auditory requirements for a particular job must be established in order to (a) ensure that the safety of the employee and other workers is not compromised, and (b) prevent undue discrimination against persons with hearing loss when such loss would not compromise safety or productivity.