In the past couple of years, TV and magazine ads - instead of focusing on company products - have been more and more telling us how much they care about the environment and the larger community. Why is that? Certainly many, many factors are responsible for this expanded sense of responsibility. Of note are the Equator Principles, introduced in 2006 by 45 banks from around the world, as a benchmark for the financial industry to evaluate social and environmental issues in project financing. Besides compliance with the World Bank's Performance Standards and sector-specific Environmental, Health & Safety Guidelines, the Equator Principles call for projects requesting financial support to be categorized according to their environmental and social effect. Also since 2006, a record number of leading global companies have been voluntarily reporting their achievements on social and environmental issues (https://www.globalreporting.org/Pages/default.aspx
). In the Director's Desk editorial column in the January 2008 NIOSH monthly eNews (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/enews/enewsV5N9.html
), Dr. John Howard, Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) used recent reports by Goldman Sachs JB and The Economist as examples of a growing body of evidence that shows that companies "do well by being good" to their employees, as well as their communities. It is becoming increasingly clear that it makes good business sense to promote employee safety and health. Dr. Howard also discussed NIOSH's efforts to look into best practices and success stories and ultimately bolster the "business case" for the prevention of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. One of the ways Dr. Howard indicated NIOSH is addressing this goal is "by developing new partnerships with outside organizations that have also engaged discussion on an integrated approach to foster a healthier and safer American workforce." NIOSH researchers have been actively involved with NHCA since its founding, in many capacities. Through this involvement, we have learned of companies of various sizes from various economic sectors pursuing success in hearing loss prevention through "best practices." So, in 2007, a partnership was established between NIOSH and NHCA to specifically create Safe-in-Sound, an award for Excellence and Innovation in Hearing Loss Prevention. This was accomplished through a NIOSH public health project, which is in its second year. Funding was obtained from the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) manufacturing, construction, and services economic sector councils. The objectives of this initiative are to recognize organizations that document measurable achievements and to obtain and share leading edge and best practices information to advance opportunities for successful hearing loss prevention programs to a broader community. A description of the key elements that contributed to the award recipient's success story will be disseminated. The distribution of publications and hits to the award website (http://www.safeinsound.us
) will be monitored to quantify interest and evaluate the programs' reach. A panel of experts has developed a draft of the award criteria, rules, and eligibility guidelines for award applicants. The general structure and application guidelines for award applicants was distributed to the NHCA membership for additional input. The expert committee also created evaluation criteria to be used for the applications as well as during site visits for finalists. These criteria are not being publicly distributed; however, overall input was encouraged. Moreover, the evaluation criteria were externally reviewed by Dr. Alice Suter of Alice Suter and Associates. The expert committee hosted a podium session at the 33rd NHCA Annual Conference on February 22, 2008 so that attendees could become familiar with the award and provide written or verbal comments. To date, we have received some feedback by e-mail and from 24 of the feedback forms distributed at the conference. Most of the feedback received was extremely positive: 92% of the respondents indicated that they felt that the award creation will be a useful tool to encourage the improvement and success of hearing loss prevention programs; 79% thought that the Innovation Award concept was excellent; and 66% considered the Sector Award concept excellent. Several detailed comments and suggestions were offered. After analyzing the feedback the expert panel has finalized the application procedures for the 2009 awards and posted it in the Safe-in-Sound website ( http://www.safeinsound.us
). We will maintain open channels of communication between the panel of experts and the hearing loss prevention community. NIOSH and NHCA will be responsible for continuously checking and updating the selection criteria for the award based on the lessons learned annually with the nomination and selection process throughout the duration of this project. We hope to count on the NHCA membership's help in spreading the word about the award and submitting nominations. The application due date is September 1, 2008. Applications and supporting documentation must be physically received at the NHCA business office on or before the day of application deadline (5pm MST/MDT). Electronic applications must be date/time stamped by midnight on the due date. The first Safe-in-Sound awards will be presented at the 34th NHCA Annual Conference to be held in Atlanta, GA, in February 2009. NHCA and NIOSH are pleased to partner in this new initiative and look forward to sharing the stories of successful hearing loss prevention programs.