Can you hear it now? Personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers want to put a buzz in your ear about the importance of hearing safety. Recently, the Baccou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group (parent company of Bilsom and Howard Leight) launched an ad campaign to remind tradesmen that hearing damage is cumulative, and protection is necessary.
“Up to now, PPE advertising has been negative and threatening,” says Renee Bessette, senior marketing communications specialist for Baccou-Dalloz. “Our approach is people-oriented and recognizes that people should be comfortable wearing hearing protection while they work.” The campaign offers a free hearing safety kit and touts the four “Cs” of hearing protection — comfort, communication, convenience, and caring — on its Web site, www.hearingportal.com.
At Centennial Contractors Enterprises, Vienna, Va., safety director Tony Lombardi says “we know that noise-induced hearing loss causes stress and interferes with communication, so it's a concern for us and our subcontractors.” To mitigate the effects of noise, the company uses equipment that emits fewer decibels, and it rotates workers in and out of noisy conditions. At the same time, the Paragon Safety Award–winning company tests jobsites and equipment to evaluate noise levels and makes hearing protection available on the job.
“Rotating workers and ‘engineering out' the noise are great first lines of defense,” says Brad Witt, Howard Leight audiology manager. “PPE is still necessary in noise-filled environments, and it's important even in situations of intermittent noise.” Keeping in mind that “noise-canceling” headsets actually block too much sound to be useful on jobsites, Witt says workers should choose hearing protection based on the seal created in or around the ear; a large but ill-fitting earmuff likely won't provide adequate protection.
Industry manufacturer Elvex Corp. says noise level, exposure time, and comfort are also important. Information on the company's Web site ( www.elvex.com) suggests earmuffs may be preferable in intermittent-noise environments, while earplugs may be more useful for a full day of continuous noise. Similarly, earmuffs are comfortable in cold conditions, while earplugs are preferable in hot, humid weather. Also, safety systems with eye and ear protection built onto a helmet allow workers to protect themselves more completely with just one piece of PPE.
Although noise-related hearing damage doesn't occur with the immediacy of a tool accident or slip-and-fall, Witt says it shouldn't play second fiddle to these other hazards. “Studies from a [number] of states are fairly consistent in finding rampant hearing loss among construction workers,” he says. “We've started to consider it part of the price we pay for working in the construction industry, but although it isn't reversible, it is preventable.”