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workers, building, architect

NORA Manufacturing Sector Strategic Goals

921Z6PE - Preventing Hearing Loss Among Shipyard Workers

Start Date: 10/1/2006
End Date: 9/30/2009

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Mark Stephenson
Phone: 513-533-8144
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: DART
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goal Addressed

Secondary Goal Addressed


Attributed to Manufacturing


Project Description

Short Summary

The goal of this project is to reduce occupational hearing loss among shipyard workers. This will be accomplished by developing new hearing protector fit-test hardware and methods that are practical for use in the field. Combining this fit-test capability with newly developed health communication based training methods is expected to significantly improve the effectiveness of hearing protector devices. Additionally, this approach will give both workers and supervisors feedback on the amount of attenuation a worker's hearing protector actually provides as it is worn in the field.


A sequence of events began in October, 2007 with consensus meetings between the U.S. EPA and hearing protector manufacturers to determine the most appropriate method for training workers to use hearing protectors. NIOSH is proposing the use of video training techniques. During FY 07 NIOSH developed video training materials which will serve as a template for updating U.S. EPA methods for rating hearing protector attenuation. In the 3rd quarter of FY 07 a statement of work was developed for a contract to validate the NIOSH HPD test materials and methods. During FY 08 and 09 the focus shifts to developing methods and materials to integrate the NIOSH video training methods with computer-based fit-test methods. During FY09 efforts will also include analyzing the effectiveness of the NIOSH training methods and fit-test procedures. The goal will be to produce efficient and effective methods employers can use to train workers in how to properly use HPDs, and to give both employers and workers a practical tool for determining if an HPD is correctly fit. These technologies will be transferred to the U.S. Navy in FY 10 for field testing at U.S. Navy shipyards.


The ultimate longitudinal goal of this study and the resulting intervention is to demonstrate a consistent and significant decrease in annual STS rates at this shipyard, and eventually throughout the industry as the lessons learned are disseminated and widely implemented. This has the potential to significantly improve hearing health for more than 150,000 workers in the United States alone. The first opportunity to note a decrease in new STS rates will occur following the first annual audiometry, post-intervention. Consistently decreasing annual STS rates will indicate that the programs are truly improving to protect and conserve workers' hearing. STS rates are calculated from yearly audiometric data that will continue to be collected independent of this study. These data will permit ongoing longitudinal assessment of the effectiveness of the intervention beyond the time frame allotted to this study, and will provide an indication of whether the changes to the program are being maintained long-term. The methods, tools, and interventions employed in this study are expected to be transferable, with appropriate modification of specific elements, to any industry suffering similar problems with hearing loss prevention program failures.

Mission Relevance

This study is designed to address the problem of occupational hearing loss among shipyard workers. These workers fall under the Manufacturing sector. However, many of the tools and tasks performed by these workers are identical to those performed by workers in the Construction sectors. As such this effort supports goals in each of these sectors. Specifically, it supports Goal #4 in the Manufacturing sector (reduce the incidence and severity of work-related illness and injury. It supports Goal #4 in the Construction sector Reduce hearing loss among construction workers by increased use of noise reduction solutions, practices, and hearing conservation programs by the construction community. It also supports Strategic Goals #3 and 4 of the NIOSH hearing loss research program: Contribute to the Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of Effective Hearing Loss Prevention Programs: Identify and Develop Best Practices for Identifying Workers at Risk of Occupational Hearing Loss; To Reduce Hearing Loss through Interventions Targeting Hearing Protection Devices. Specifically it addresses Intermediate Goal 3.1 of the Hearing Loss Research Program: Develop and evaluate and disseminate effective fit-testing systems for use in occupational settings to determine performance of hearing protection devices. It also addresses HLR intermediate goal 4.2: Develop practical training that will improve the performance of HPDs. The fact is, hearing loss is a serious problem among shipyard workers. Based on 12,819 hearing tests collected at four U.S. Navy shipyards from January through October 2004, 18% of the civilian workers were found to have experienced sufficient occupational hearing loss to be categorized by OSHA as meeting the criteria for a standard threshold shift (STS). By comparison, an effective program should have STS rates below 3% (ANSI, 1991). Furthermore, recently (July 2003 through June 2004), the Navy paid nearly $13 million in worker compensation for hearing loss among its civilian work force. These data are even more disconcerting when one considers that each of these shipyards is known to have comprehensive hearing conservation programs that appear to be fully compliant with the OSHA hearing conservation amendment. Given that this problem is based on data from four shipyards at widely geographically separated facilities, it is likely that the causative factors for this hearing loss are representative of the general maritime industry. As such, this problem is expected to directly affect 155,000 workers (BLS, April, 2004). It is likely that the occupational hearing loss observed among shipyard workers may be substantially attributed to improper fit and use of hearing protectors. However, currently, there is no practical way for workers to know whether or not they are using their hearing protectors correctly. NIOSH has developed new training materials that exploit health communication theory to teach workers how to properly use hearing protectors. By incorporating new hearing protector fit-test methods into hearing protector training, NIOSH believes it can ameliorate the failure of hearing protectors to effectively reduce occupational noise exposures. Such results support NIOSH hearing loss research strategic goals because they would reduce the number of workers who experience occupational hearing loss.