VALUE OF A GOOD HEARING LOSS PREVENTION
When a company has an effective hearing loss prevention program, everyone wins-the
employers, the employees, and the safety and health professionals who implement the
program. This guidebook is not about minimal programs that meet only the letter of the
law. It is concerned with programs that are effective as well as efficient: those
optimizing program elements that succeed in preventing hearing loss in a practical and
Hearing loss prevention programs are the law in that they are required by federal and
state occupational safety and health agencies. Companies that do not comply with
appropriate regulations are liable for citations and fines. Most employee compensation
insurance carriers also advocate hearing loss prevention programs, and companies that do
not protect their employees from hearing loss may find their premiums increasing. Aside
from the legal and economic factors, conscientious employers will want to protect their
employees from an unnecessary loss of hearing. Today, there is no reason why hearing
impairment needs to be the outcome of a noisy job.
A good hearing loss prevention program is good business. It promotes good labor
relations because employees know that management is concerned, and this type of concern
may translate to improved productivity and product quality. Indeed, noise itself can have
an adverse effect on productivity. For complex jobs and those requiring concentration,
studies show that greater efficiency is linked to lower noise levels. Also, the ease and
accuracy of communication is improved as noise levels are lowered. These benefits should
prove to be cost-effective for management. Additionally, the conservation of hearing leads
to the conservation of valuable employee resources. Studies of noisy companies that have
implemented hearing loss prevention programs show reductions in accident rates, illnesses,
and lost time. Versatility, adaptability, and promotability of employees are likely to be
maintained when employees retain good hearing. Finally, morale may also benefit, which
should lead to greater employee satisfaction and retention.
When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hearing Conservation
Amendment became effective in 1983, some employers were concerned about the possibility of
a flood of claims for occupational hearing loss. However, no such flood has occurred, at
least on a national scale. Of course, employers who take the appropriate preventive action
now will greatly reduce the risk of future claims.
As with other effective health and safety measures, hearing loss prevention programs
should also extend beyond the workplace. The company that encourages employees to take
their earplugs home to wear during woodworking, target practice, or other noisy off-job
activities is reducing the possibility of spurious work related claims, as well as
educating the employees to the need for hearing loss prevention in recreational settings.
Finally, the company that places a high value on safety and health maintenance should
evaluate the performance of managers responsible for hearing loss prevention programs and
reward those whose programs succeed in preventing hearing loss. An effective hearing loss
prevention program costs money to implement, but the necessary investment will produce a
The hearing loss prevention program's most obvious benefit to employees is that it
saves their hearing and ability to communicate. Because occupational hearing loss creeps
up slowly, many individuals are unaware of their impairment until it is too late.
Moreover, occupational hearing loss represents permanent damage, i.e., it cannot be
restored through medical/surgical treatment. A good hearing loss prevention program,
however, can identify minor changes in hearing, and prevent deterioration to the point
where it is permanent. Employees who have labored for 35 or 40 years deserve to enjoy
their retirement; they should be able to socialize with family and friends, and listen to
music and the sounds of nature. Hearing loss due to noise appears during the first five to
ten years of exposure, so young workers are at most risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
Preventing hearing loss for them benefits employees all through life, not just in
retirement, since the ability to communicate is critical in all of our interpersonal
relationships. When good hearing is a prerequisite for a job, an effective hearing loss
prevention program will enable employees to sustain their hearing ability and thus
continue to qualify for jobs (perhaps higher level) that have such requirements.
An additional benefit of an occupational hearing loss prevention program is that it can
detect hearing loss that may be due to causes other than workplace noise exposure. Some
individuals may suffer hearing loss due to impacted earwax, an ear infection, or possibly
a more serious disease. Audiometric tests can help identify these non-noise related
problems, and employees can be referred for the necessary medical attention. Therefore,
prevention programs promote and contribute to concepts of overall hearing health as part
of health-maintenance programs.
Another benefit reported by employees in companies with effective hearing loss
prevention programs is that they generally feel better; less tired and irritable. They
sometimes report that they sleep better at night, and they are no longer bothered by
temporary reductions in hearing ability at the end of the day, or by the tinnitus (ringing
in the ears) that often accompanies the development of noise-induced hearing loss. There
is also evidence that long term noise exposure may contribute to stress-related disease,
especially cardiovascular disease. By reducing noise, the chances of other health
impairments are consequently controlled and reduced.
Noise reduction and maintenance of hearing sensitivity can benefit safety because
employees are better able to communicate, and to hear alarms and warning shouts. Good
hearing is essential for more subtle warning signals, such as a malfunctioning machine or
the sounds of "roof-talk" in underground mines.
In summary, a good hearing loss prevention program is consistent with good health and
good business. At a minimum, employees benefit with good hearing. Reductions in noise
exposure may also result in less fatigue and irritation, and possibly fewer stress-related
health complaints. The company benefits from reduced worker compensation payments and
medical expenses, and a reduced likelihood of an OSHA citation for hearing conservation
violations. Reduced noise exposures also can be associated with improved employee morale,
and, in some cases, higher production efficiency.
Henderson D . Effects of noise on hearing. In: Feldman AS, Grimes CT, eds.
Hearing Conservation in Industry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, Chapter 2.
OSHA . Occupational Noise Exposure; Hearing Conservation Amendment. Federal Register,
46, pp. 4078-4102 and 4105-4117.
Rossi G, ed.  Noise as Public Health Problem: Proceedings of the Fourth
International Congress. Milan, Italy, Centro Richerche e Studi Amplifon.
Suter AH . The development of federal standards and damage risk criteria. In:
Lipscomb DM, ed. Hearing Conservation in Industry, Schools, and the Military. Boston, MA:
Little, Brown and Co., Chapter 5.
Suter AH Hearing Conservation. In: Berger, EH, Ward WD, Morrill, JC, Royster LH eds.
Noise and Hearing Conservation Manual. 4th ed. Akron, OH: American Industrial Hygiene
Assoc., Chapter 1.
Vallet M ed.  Noise as a Public Health Hazard: Proceedings of the 6th
International Congress. Nice, France: Institut National de Recherche Sur le
Transports et Luer SÚcuritÚ
Ward WD . Proceedings of the International Congress on Noise
as Public Health Problem. EPA Report No. 550/9-73-008. Washington, D.C. U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
Back to Table of
Go To Next Page