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Ear safety - how to preserve your workers' hearing

Achieving ear safety in the workplace is approached in different ways and is often based on the conditions in which the individual at risk will be working.While simple earplugs may work for one type of working environment, this same method would do nothing for ear safety if the threat to hearing damage is greater.

There are many different hearing protection devices available.Below is a list of hearing protection devices and a short description of each:

- Formable earplugs (often the least expensive): these earplugs take on the form of the ear, making a fit that is right for most workers.There is however a specific way that these formable earplugs are to be worn to ensure proper protection.If worn improperly, the protection is minimal.If pushed too far into the ear there is even possibility for more serious damage.
- Pre-molded earplugs: Often sold in a variety of sizes, the best fit needs to be found for each individual.
- Semi-aural devices/canal caps: do not provide a great deal of protection but may be appropriate for occasional or low risk use.
- Earmuffs: These are often the best choice. The outside of the earmuff is a hard but the inside holds a soft cushion that completely covers the ear and creates a very effective sound barrier.

There is some debate as to which hearing protection methods are best.The hearing protection and ear safety situation is complicated by the fact that the worker not only needs to protect his ears from dangerous exposure to sound, but he also needs to be able to hear people trying to communicate with and around him.It is not simply a matter of blocking out all sound, but blocking out the sound that causes damage.

All of these ear protection techniques can become quite overwhelming.Another good suggestion then for ear safety is to tackle the noise problem at the source.These methods may be a bit technical in the beginning (that is, you may need the assistance of an audio professional or an audiologist), but you can't put a price on someone's ability to hear.There are occupational noise prevention programs, use of noise dosimeters, and noise and vibration measurement techniques, just to name a few!

Perhaps less technical methods are what you are looking for.Many companies have employee health funds set aside for regular visits to an audiologist to be evaluated.An audiologist can conduct a simple test where the worker identifies sounds at a variety of pitches and then these results are compared to previous test results.If there is no change, the worker's environment has not had an adverse effect on his hearing.If the worker's hearing has deteriorated, alternate ear safety methods should be implemented and the audiologist should remain aware of any change in the worker's condition.

Audiologists can provide helpful advice and training in the use of hearing instruments, communication strategies, and amplification devices and can provide medial attention in the case of infection (a common side effect of improper ear plug use).

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency that has been given the charge to enforce safety and healthy working conditions.OSHA has been working to conserve hearing in the workplace for over 20 years.Official legislation is available through the official OSHA website and should be the driving force to use as a guideline when implementing your own safety policies.The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also provides helpful suggestions and studies that can guide you in finding the type of hearing protection that will be best for your operation.

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