More than 30 million employees are regularly exposed to hazardous occupational noise in the United States each year. The National Safety Council reports that approximately one-third of these people eventually develop a permanent hearing loss. Drillers and their helpers who work around drill rigs are certainly among those who are subjected to excessive workplace noise. The harmful effects of this exposure can be reduced or eliminated through engineering and administrative noise controls and educating workers about the hazards of noise and the consequences of overexposure. It is reasoned that more informed workers will follow effective practices known to protect one's hearing, e.g., they may be inclined to wear hearing protection regularly. However, studies show that the use of hearing protection by workers has been disappointing. Why are hearing protection usage rates so low? One explanation is that some workers regard loud noise as a nuisance rather than an as occupational health and safety hazard. They expect their workplace to be loud and therefore accept noise as a part of the job over which they have no control. As a result, they neglect using proven measures, such as hearing protection, which can protect their hearing. In addition to this lack of concern for noise in the workplace, other reasons why workers do not wear hearing protection regularly, or perhaps wear it improperly, include poor education, awareness, and training. The improper use of hearing protection may cause workers to remain in a high-noise area for an extended period of time, thinking they are protected. But in fact they are not. One way to eliminate worker indifference and improve drillers' understanding of noise hazards is to educate them about noise, hearing loss, and hearing protection. To accomplish this, NIOSH has developed two training exercises. The first is an invisible ink exercise called "Drill Rig Incident"; the second is a 3-D slide reel training aid called "Wearing Hearing Protection Properly." The first was developed as an instructor-led training exercise for use with small groups of workers. The second was developed as a training aid that can be used with or without and instructor. This article briefly reviews the development and evaluation of both training exercises and shows examples from each. Field data are presented that show how the exercises are effective for teaching drillers and others who work at drill sites about the hazards of noise and the benefits of wearing hearing protection.
NIOSH, Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 18070, Pittsburgh, PA 15236