What is International Ear Care Day?
It’s an initiative of The World Health Organization to focus attention on the damage we are doing to our ears.
Let me pose a question.
What would be the government’s response to 1/3 of a population coming down with the same disease?
- 2 million people in New York develop the flu.
- 5 million people in Southern California develop Chicken Pox or Measles.
The response would most certainly be swift and decisive.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Did you know that 1/3 of the people working in noise have a workplace illness called Noise Induced Hearing Loss. Now it is not exactly the same as acquiring a deafness illness, however the damage is done because the onset of their hearing loss has taken place over many years; whereas in the scenarios I sighted above the onset of the disease is more immediate.
Many of us wonder how did this happen?
For years hearing professionals have been trying to determine why people suffer from hearing loss. We certainly know these industrial sites and noises can be loud and damaging. Not only do we routinely measure how loud they are, we also measure how much of that loudness workers are exposed to. So we know the danger. We also have devices and processes to do something about that danger.
For example, there are companies capable of engineering the noise out of facilities. How prevalent is that? United Technologies recently won the prestigious Safe-in-Sound award from NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a Branch of the Center for Disease Control) and The National Hearing Conservation Association for removing enough noise from their workplaces to move 80% of their noise exposed workers (8,000 people) from their hearing conservation programs world wide. We are also educated in ways to protect our hearing when exposed to noise.
Hearing Loss – A bigger problem
Hearing protection devices have been around since the 1930’s with companies like Honeywell, 3M, and Custom Protect Ear committed to finding better ways to make hearing protection. So what’s the problem?
Let’s start with engineering the noise out of facilities. A recent pole of Canadian companies suggested that about 10% of them measure the noise exposure of their workers. That does not mean they don’t know what noise levels they have; they do. (The difference between noise level and noise exposure is how much time the worker spends in what level of noise). It’s the amount of noise a worker is exposed to over a given time that the company has to control; but many companies don’t know what that is. Protecting their workers based on the noise level rather than noise exposure usually means that in most cases you’re actually over protective. This is based on the assumption that someone who works in 95 decibels of noise seldom is in the noise for 8 hours, without breaks.
Then where’s the problem?
The following contains some conjecture unproven, as yet, by independent study
Most organizations will provide their workers with hearing protectors sufficient to protect their hearing from the noise they are exposed to. Some of the workers will use it properly and some don’t. To understand why, we need to look at the human condition. Dr. Barry Blesser states that since man first descended from the trees, it is our hearing that has been our primary safety sense. Hearing can detect dangers we can’t see. Unlike other senses, the ears are fully functional when the human is born; the rushing waterfall hidden by the trees, a large animal crashing through the undergrowth, a charging wildebeest coming around a rock are audible before they are visible. It is possible we are genetically wired to rely on our ears to keep us safe.
The one thing we can assume about places with loud noises is that something dangerous is making that noise. Then to protect our hearing from that loud noise we usually render them partly or fully non-functional by plugging them. At this point I need to point out that Custom Protect Ear’s dB Blockers are hearing enabled. They don’t block as much as manage the noise to the ear to a safe level. Given our human propensity to keep safe, especially in loud threatening noise, is it any wonder workers choose safety for the whole human over safety for their ears? Often they disable the full protection the hearing protection device offers. I think it’s to keep safe.
As I said, this has yet to be conclusively proven by independent study but the fact remains that workers routinely don’t leave their earplugs fully in place when exposed to noise. What’s the solution? A recent roundtable at the National Hearing Conservation Association Annual Conference in New Orleans agreed that we need to know the answers to the question of Why workers disable their protection. Until we do, we should provide workers with hearing enabled devices, with effective education as to their use, and the dangers of not using it. We owe it to them. Especially on International Ear Care Day.
Jeffrey Goldberg | President
Custom Protect Ear