Occupational hearing loss is one of the most pervasive problems in today's occupational
environment, affecting workers in manufacturing, construction, transportation,
agriculture, and the military. Based on a NIOSH survey in the 1980s on exposed workers in
all economic sectors and on the 1992 Statistical Abstracts of the United States
accounting of production workers, it is thought that there are approximately 30 million
American workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels alone or in combination with other
ototraumatic agents that are potentially hazardous to their hearing. At present exposure
limits, one in four will develop a permanent hearing loss as a result of their
occupational exposure to these hazards. The gradual progression of hearing loss due to
noise may be less dramatic than an injury resulting from a workplace accident, but it is a
significant and permanent handicap for the affected individual. Loss of hearing denies
people sensory experiences that contribute to the quality of their lives. For some, loss
of hearing may impede their ability to be gainfully employed. This tragedy is
Through comprehensive and coordinated efforts on the part of managers, interested
employees, and safety and health professionals, much has been learned over the last few
decades about implementing hearing loss prevention programs. A good hearing loss
prevention program has historically consisted of at least seven identifiable elements:
monitoring hearing hazards, engineering and administrative controls, audiometric
evaluation, personal hearing protective devices, education and motivation, record keeping,
and program evaluation. To these seven elements, an eighth has been added that recognizes
the need for a Hearing Loss Prevention Program Audit process. This is not a new process;
it has typically been blended within the other program elements. Given all of the program
elements that are essential to preventing hearing loss, adding an element that
specifically addresses the program appraisal process seems warranted. This document
summarizes the procedures involved in implementing these eight elements. They will be
examined from the perspective of management, program implementors, and affected employees.
The responsibilities of each category of participants will be outlined. The management
category includes all of those in the position of generating or enforcing policy and
authorizing the allocation of resources. Program implementors are those who are charged by
management to make the hearing loss prevention program elements work, and the employees'
category includes all persons who are exposed to hazardous levels of occupational noise
and other ototraumatic agents.
The program is usually implemented by a team, whose composition and size tend to be
related to the size of the company and the number of employees exposed to hearing hazards.
Members of the team may include any or all of the following: physician, nurse,
audiologist, industrial hygienist, company and/or union safety representative, hearing
conservation technician, acoustical engineer, and the employee representative. The most
important team members are the employees. While employees usually don't fund the hearing
loss prevention program, decide its policies, or oversee its day-to-day operation, they
are absolutely key to the success of the program. When employees know that they are full
members of the hearing loss prevention program team and they are the keys to its success,
they will usually work hard to see that all aspects of the program under their control are
implemented. When employees feel that the program is being forced upon them, especially
without their personal involvement and participation, they often react negatively and may
work to circumvent the program.
It has become clear over recent years that the level of commitment displayed by
management is directly related to the overall effectiveness of the hearing loss prevention
program. A strong commitment to a hearing loss prevention program can be shown by
following these policies:
Strive for excellence in the program rather than just meeting minimal requirements.
Ensure management and supervisors support hearing loss prevention goals and actively
contribute to a safety climate that encourages and enables employees to engage in good
Integrate the program into the overall company safety and health program.
Educate and motivate employees, so that hearing loss prevention practices become an
integral part of their behavior on and off the job.
Designate a key person to serve as implementor/coordinator of the program.
Strive for simplification and continuity of the program's operating procedures.
Involve the employees in the process of developing and implementing hearing loss
Establish quality assurance practices to make sure that all information used in the
program is accurate and current.
Review the program's effectiveness no less than annually and make modifications when
The nature and scope of the hearing loss prevention program recommended in this text go
beyond the minimal requirements of federal and state regulations. The objective here is
not to reiterate regulatory requirements, although we urge all readers to become
thoroughly familiar with the noise standards and regulations for compliance purposes.
Instead, the objective is to convey some of the characteristics of a good hearing loss
prevention program that are not necessarily found in regulations, and yet which contribute
substantially to the program's success. However, to facilitate compliance with Federal
regulations for occupational noise exposure, we have included an OSHA Noise Standard
Compliance Checklist as Appendix A, and we have listed the pertinent provisions of the
OSHA standard at the end of each section. In addition, for those who wish to pursue
certain areas further, we have listed suggested readings at the end of each section, many
of which can also be found in the expanded list of suggested readings in Appendix D. The
reader's attention should also be directed to: the checklist in Appendix B, which should
be helpful in evaluating hearing loss prevention programs that are already in place;
Appendix C, which gives a listing of audiovisual materials; and Appendix E, which lists
resources in both government and the private sector for those who need further assistance.
As the title states, this is a practical guide, intended to assist employers and
employees to develop and maintain hearing loss prevention programs that actually work, and
are not just perfunctory measures. This guide is not meant to be technical in nature. The
reader will find few formal citations to the scientific literature - only suggested
readings at the end of each section. Support for the statements and recommendations made
in the text are available in the scientific literature. The interested reader may pursue
these concepts further in the suggested readings.
Back to Table of
Go To Next Page