Effective Hearing Conservation

The Growing Need for Greater Attention to Hearing Conservation

  Humans, and even animals, have always bean susceptible to deafness, in varying degrees. However, in recent years, there has been an unprecedented increase in the incidence of auditory impairment worldwide. The condition affects people of all ages, and can be attributed to a variety of causes. For instance, from around the late thirties, the mere act of aging will, in many cases, tend to be accompanied by a slow deterioration in auditory acuity – a condition known as presbycusis. At the other end of the scale, some children are born deaf, often as a result of an infection, such as German measles (rubella) contracted by the mother during pregnancy, while around half of such cases are genetic in origin. Among those affected in childhood or later, chronic ear infections were most often implicated, and the development of antibiotics represented the first real breakthrough in hearing conservation.

Another factor implicated in auditory impairment is the exposure to certain chemicals with ototoxic properties. These include lead, mercury, arsenic and various solvents, such as toluene and xylene. Some medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen and, somewhat ironically, certain antibiotics, such as streptomycin and gentamicin, are also implicated. However, since the industrial revolution, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) has steadily been increasing. Today, it is not only the most frequent form of work-related injury, but also the single greatest cause of auditory impairment worldwide.

The risk of NIHL, however, is not confined to those in the workplace. Vehicular traffic, for instance, is not only responsible for polluting the air in and around our cities. It also generates sufficient noise to affect pedestrians who are exposed to it regularly and over a sufficiently long period of time. Those living close to an airport or on a busy flightpath are also at risk from the intense noise of jet planes during take-off. Noise abatement regulations, enforcing airlines to minimise noise, have been introduced in most countries, and might play some part in hearing conservation.

Perhaps the most alarming feature of NIHL is that, despite the fact that it is a preventable condition, so many people choose not to take the simple precautions required to protect themselves from the effects of loud noise. In fact, we have a generation of young people who are dedicated to the idea that music, whether from a live band, a car stereo, or fed straight into their ears from an iPod, can only be enjoyed at full volume, and well above the 85dB threshold at which sensorineural damage is inevitable. While some manufacturers of portable music devices are taking steps to limit the volume capabilities of their products, as yet, there is no legislation to enforce this.

By contrast, legislation requiring employers to adopt effective measures to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace has long been in place. That these have proved to be less effective than hoped for can be attributed to three main factors – lack of oversight and enforcement by employers, lack of compliance by workers, and inadequate protection. Any effective hearing conservation programme within the workplace must therefore begin with education of both employer and employees regarding the risk of NIHL and its consequences. It is no less important to ensure that the protection provided by the employer really works.

Prevention, in fact, need entail no more than the use of earplugs. If these are to be effective, however, it is vital that they fit the wearer’s ears perfectly, and remain comfortable during extended use. Furthermore, they should not inhibit communication between wearers, as this may be essential to productivity and for safety. Experience has shown that when a product meets these three important criteria, workers are more inclined to ensure that they remain protected throughout the full duration of their shift.

To achieve a perfect fit requires preparing an impression of each ear. These are then used to tailor an earplug that matches their contours exactly, while the use of a suitably resilient material ensures long-term comfort and durability.

H.A.S.S. Industrial (Pty) Ltd provides a comprehensive hearing conservation management programme. Beginning with an assessment of risk levels, it progresses to the screening of auditory efficiency among those exposed. Next follows the preparation of impressions and the manufacture of a range of personalised earplugs, which are then individually fitted, leak-tested, and the balance between protection and ease of communication precisely adjusted. NIHL awareness training, instruction in the correct use of the protective devices, and annual follow-ups complete this invaluable service.

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