EDUCATION AND MOTIVATION
Training is a critical element of a good hearing loss prevention program. In order to obtain sincere and energetic support by management and active participation by employees, it is necessary to educate and motivate both groups. A hearing loss prevention program that overlooks the importance of education and motivation is likely to fail, because employees will not understand why it is in their best interest to cooperate, and management will fail to show the necessary commitment. Employees and managers who appreciate the precious sense of hearing and understand the reasons for and the mechanics of the hearing loss prevention program will be more likely to participate for their mutual benefit, rather than viewing the program as an imposition.
OSHA's requirements for training, education, and employee access to materials are summarized in items no. 39-41 in Appendix A, but it should be kept in mind that these are only minimal regulatory requirements. Readers should also consult the checklist in Appendix B, as well as the suggested readings at the end of this section and in Appendix D. A list of audiovisual materials is presented in Appendix C.
Management must emphasize the importance of the educational phase of the hearing loss prevention program by setting a high priority on and requiring attendance at regular hearing loss prevention training sessions. Training sessions should be mandatory not only for noise-exposed employees, but also for the supervisors and managers responsible for noisy production areas. A manager should participate in each employee training session to outline company policies and to explain and model the company's commitment to the hearing loss prevention program.
The training program should consist of more than films and pamphlets. It must be tailored to the company's particular hearing loss prevention needs, and should include live presentations by articulate and knowledgeable speakers and hands-on practice sessions with hearing protectors. Hearing loss prevention presentations should be updated and presented at least annually, or more frequently if there is a significant turnover in employees. In addition to training sessions focussed specifically on hearing loss prevention, management should also require the inclusion of hearing health topics in regularly-scheduled general safety meetings. These general meetings may be brief "reminder" meetings held weekly or monthly that also serve to inform workers about progress made toward meeting the goals of the company's various safety programs. In this way, hearing health will become an integrated part of the overall health and safety climate of the workplace.
Management should make sure that the hearing loss prevention program's staff (audiometric technicians, hearing-hazard assessors, noise control experts, those who fit and issue hearing protection devices, and supervisors) have received detailed instructions in hearing loss prevention so that they are qualified to lead employee training sessions and comfortable with answering employees' questions. Individuals who make the main presentations in the formal educational programs must be carefully selected to project genuine interest in the employees' welfare, and they must be speakers capable of gaining the employees' attention and respect. Peers can be particularly influential, and should be utilized whenever possible. For example, a senior worker who has sustained a hearing loss may be willing to share stories about his/her frustrations with communication difficulties in day-to-day activities. A powerful testimonial and behavioral modeling from a respected co-worker can be extremely effective in convincing other workers to improve their hearing loss prevention behaviors.
The periodic hearing loss prevention training sessions are best structured in small groups. Often groups will consist of a supervisor and the employees in that production unit. Because these individuals will have common noise exposures, they will fall under a common hearing protector policy, and they often feel comfortable enough with each other to ask questions freely and make constructive comments. Management must ensure that the questions and concerns raised during educational sessions receive thoughtful and prompt follow-up.
In some situations, it may be best to arrange separate educational sessions for employees and supervisors/managers of noisy departments. This will permit each group to discuss concerns relevant to their respective needs and responsibilities. However, at some point, representatives of both groups will need to work together to resolve concerns and implement the hearing loss prevention program. If necessary, a neutral facilitator can be chosen to assist in the process by attending both groups' meetings. This facilitator might be the company health and safety professional or an outside consultant hired by the company to assist with the training and motivation phase of the program.
Because the program implementor is usually responsible for planning the educational sessions, and in some instances, may be the appropriate person to conduct sessions, it is extremely important that the program implementor have training that is current and relevant to the hearing loss prevention program. The type of training that the program implementor will need is often available at state, regional, and national conferences sponsored by safety or hearing conservation associations.
The program implementor should plan sessions that are limited in content to short, simple presentations of the most relevant facts. When stressing health promoting behaviors (such as consistently wearing hearing protection while working in noise) that will prevent something bad from happening that has not yet happened, research suggests that the focus should be on the real-life losses employees might expect if they don't act to protect their hearing. They might not be able to hear children's voices. They might not understand speech at a party, enjoy music and the sounds of nature, or perceive sounds that may convey other critical information--such as danger or equipment malfunctions. Another useful approach might be to explain audiometric results so employees can see how their hearing threshold levels compare to those of non-noise exposed individuals with normal hearing in their own age group. Once employees agree upon why they need to conserve their hearing and how to monitor their audiogram results, the remainder of the program can focus on how to protect their hearing on and off the job through the effective use of hearing protection devices and good maintenance of engineering noise controls.
The program implementor needs to ensure that presenters tailor education and motivation sessions to each particular group of employees and their supervisors. It is important to accurately describe the group's noise exposures, the group audiometric results, the options available to them with respect to hearing protection devices, and the engineering controls in place or planned for their department. Other topics may include progress reports on the status of specific elements of the hearing loss prevention program, comparisons of company-wide audiometric results, reports on the use of hearing protectors by department, and responses to questions or concerns expressed by employees. Materials should be updated every year. New multimedia materials such as computer-based CD-ROM or CD-Interactive may be considered for use. Program implementors should ensure that films and pamphlets are used only as supplementary reinforcements for the live presentations, never as the whole program. Whenever possible, hands-on activities will facilitate learning. For example, workers can break into teams or small groups, and partners can help each other practice fitting various types of hearing protectors. Similarly, workers could initially break into small groups to brainstorm solutions to a particular noise problem in the plant, and then reconvene as a complete group to discuss the options and select a solution that is agreeable to the group. In this type of meeting, the program implementor would act as facilitator; guiding the workers through the various components of the meeting and coordinating the presentation of each group's suggestions.
Aside from formal educational presentations, program implementors should use every chance to remind employees and supervisors of the importance of the hearing loss prevention program and their active participation in it. One of the greatest opportunities to influence employee attitudes about hearing loss prevention occurs at the time of the annual audiometric test, when the program implementor or technician can compare the current thresholds to past results and check the fit and condition of hearing protection devices. Praise for employees with stable hearing and cautions for those with threshold shifts are effective if the comments come from a sincere and knowledgeable individual. Contrary to the approach suggested above for promoting prevention behaviors, research has suggested that when faced with detecting a health problem that may have already occurred (i.e., discovering a hearing loss), workers may respond best at this time to health messages stressing what they have to gain by engaging in behaviors that will preserve their remaining good hearing. Program implementors in this situation should stress how employees can act to maintain their ability to hear music, voices, warning signals, etc.
In effective hearing loss prevention programs, the program implementors interact with employees more than just once a year. They ask questions and make comments about the hearing loss prevention program whether meeting workers on the plant floor or in the halls and cafeteria - wherever contact is made. The goal is to make the hearing loss prevention program a visible and ongoing concern.
Employees must take responsibility for their hearing health by acting in accordance with company hearing loss prevention policies and contributing to their own education about hearing hazards. They must voice their concerns and questions about the hearing loss prevention program, inform program implementors when procedures are not practical, and suggest alternatives that would be more workable for their departments. Employees are an integral part of hearing loss prevention program, and can serve as presenters of information as well as consumers of information. They can help train each other in the proper use of engineering controls and hearing protectors, and have the responsibility to approach program facilitators and management with their health and safety concerns. These concerns should not have to wait until the regularly scheduled safety meetings, but should be expressed as soon as they arise. If hearing loss prevention program personnel fail to provide adequate consideration or follow-up, employees need to appeal to higher management until their concerns are addressed.
In the past, it has been very popular to suggest that management should reward workers who wear their hearing protectors and punish those who do not. In reality, research has noted that managers are sometimes greatly disappointed with the results of this type of behavior modification approach. Sometimes reward and punishment systems can foster destructive competitiveness between workers in a group as well as bitter animosity between work groups and the managers who supervise them. Specific rewards can lose their appeal over time, sometimes requiring management to continually "sweeten the pot" to maintain the desired behaviors. Additionally, management-designed reward systems can damage employees self-esteem and intrinsic motivation for performing their work well. This can lead to lowered productivity, declining quality of work, and a lack of motivation to apply oneself in that work situation. Workers who minimally follow the rules and put in their time may have simply decided that they have little personal responsibility for their contribution on the job. This type of apathy leads to negative attitudes toward work and the health programs associated with work, including hearing loss prevention.
There is a broad literature discussing the importance of an individual's perceptions of personal control in a wide variety of situations. It suggests that one reason why rewards sometimes fail to maintain desired behaviors is that workers perceive that they have little real control over their work and that management's system of doling out rewards and punishments controls their behavior on the job in a manipulative manner. Similarly, there are well documented negative side effects of relying on punishment to discipline workers for infraction of safety rules. While punishment may stop or discourage undesirable behavior when the behavior is closely monitored, it does not directly encourage desirable behaviors. Furthermore, in many settings, the punisher is also the person (usually a supervisor or the program implementor) who is responsible for administering rewards. This creates a difficult situation that might seriously diminish the effectiveness of rewards.
If an incentive system is in place or desired by management and the workers, a successful program can be developed with care. Both management and employees should agree on specific goals for the program. Both groups should work together to choose the rewards and sanctions that will apply to the program. As much as possible, the affected workers should set up the system and enforce it, otherwise management may damage the motivation and morale of the workers with inappropriate and unnecessary controls. In this way, workers can be encouraged to assume as much responsibility as feasible for their health and their work environment. They will look out for and police each other. This "bottom-up" approach is more likely to build camaraderie and group commitment to safety than the traditional "top-down," management centered approaches of the past.
Code of Federal Regulations, Title 19, Chapter XVII, Part 1910, Subpart G, 1910.95: sections (k) and (l).
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