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How can I protect my ears from noise-induced hearing loss at work?

A branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), requires that employers know if their work puts their employees at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. These employers should give you training on ear-protecting devices, and should provide you with hearing exams once a year. Some of the options that companies encourage include foam or specially-molded earplugs, ear canal caps, or special noise-blocking earmuffs. OSHA also requires that employers take steps to reduce noise where possible, as in maintaining machinery lubrication or blocking noise with sound walls or curtains.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends preventing hazardous noise exposure through controls for noise exposure and encourages employers to create Buy Quiet programs as a first step. In these programs, companies are encouraged to purchase or rent quieter machinery and tools to reduce worker noise exposure.

Although removal or control of hazardous noise from the workplace is the best solution, use hearing protectors in situations where dangerous noise exposures have not yet been eliminated. NIOSH has developed several tools that provide valuable information about hearing protection devices:

  • Hearing Protector Device Compendium is a comprehensive searchable database of hearing protection devices. This web tool was created to help workers and safety professionals select the most appropriate product for their unique environment. The tool identifies hearing protector devices by type, manufacturer and noise exposure level.
  • NIOSH HPD Well-Fit™ can quickly and inexpensively test the performance of hearing protection. This fit-testing technology is a significant advancement in efforts to preserve workers' hearing. HPD Well-Fit utilizes technology that is built into just about every computer sold today, requires only four to seven minutes to measure HPD performance and can be used with any earplug.

In order to minimize occupational risks and reduce work-related hearing loss, companies and organizations should implement Hearing Loss Prevention programs. Critical components to any Hearing Loss Prevention Program include:

  • Noise exposure monitoring
  • Engineering and administrative controls
  • Audiometric evaluation
  • Hearing protection devices
  • Education and motivation
  • Record keeping
  • Program evaluation

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.