What will the program achieve?
Research Goal 2.5 - Develop hearing protection recommendations for noise-exposed hearing-impaired workers
Upon completion of the field evaluation, the computer spreadsheet model will be made available as a tool that professionals can use when developing recommendations for accommodating noise-exposed, hearing-impaired workers.
Research will be conducted on how to train workers to maximize residual hearing (listening strategies, lip-reading, optimal utilization of hearing aids, use of alternative communication methods). This research need was identified in the 1998 criteria document.4 It was also recommended as a result of the focus group study, based on comments from participants indicating 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.
Particular jobs require that a worker be able to hear warning sounds and to communicate with other workers. A potential outcome of this research will be methods to establish consistent guidelines for determining the minimum auditory requirements for a job or task. These guidelines will ensure that the safety of the workers is not compromised by hearing impairment. Furthermore, the guidelines will be targeted to prevent workplace discrimination for those hearing impaired workers when they can be accommodated or when hearing is not critical to performance, productivity or safety.
Additional accommodations for hearing-impaired, noise-exposed workers (e.g., alternative warning systems) will be developed and evaluated to recommend a protocol for determining when a particular worker needs such accommodations. Research has indicated that warning signals need to be lower in frequency in order to be perceived by workers with hearing loss. In some situations, visual alerting devices may be required, although focus group participants reported that visual signals are not always appropriately placed so as to be useful. Practical recommendations for the accommodation of noise-exposed, hearing impaired workers will be published as a NIOSH “practical guide” oriented towards the special needs of noise-exposed, hearing-impaired workers.
One potential outcome of the effort would be the development of communication assistance systems in personal protective equipment that can help hearing-impaired workers.
The research developed in this program will provide input to the ANSI subcommittee on bioacoustics (S3) or noise (S12) to develop a method of predicting the ability of an individual to communicate in noise while wearing hearing protection.