Solving the Problem: Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

June 24, 2013

Can you get the right answer if you ask the wrong question?

Common sense would dictate that asking how to get to the beach would seldom get you directions to the mountains.  Likewise, trying to solve the problem of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) by fixing how people choose and put in their hearing protection might be only part of the answer.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is still a concern.

Noisy workplaceNoise Induced Hearing Loss affects, by some reports, 1/3 of the persons in North America working in noise. If 1/3 of the people in New York City had the same malady, you can bet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would respond.  Likewise, the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, the CDC’s workplace health and safety arm, has been on the case of NIHL for decades.  Regrettably, it is still a real problem.

In the last five years, several products have come on the market designed to measure the attenuation hearing protectors give to the people wearing them. These are  portable systems to measure the attenuation real people get in their work settings as opposed to measurements in a laboratory.  The granddaddy of these systems, FitCheck, has been around since 1994 and has been used extensively by companies like Alcoa to measure how effective their workers are at selecting and inserting effective hearing protection.  The problem these systems are trying to resolve is: How do we marry the right hearing protector with an individual and teach him or her to get the attenuation needed for it

Certainly this is a worthwhile goal provided once the protector is fit, it stays in their ears.  Aye, but there’s the rub.  Dr. Peter Rabinovitch has studied Alcoa’s hearing conservation program for many years. Dr. Rabinovitch says that “he can see no outcomes in Alcoa’s hearing conservation program attributable to the use of Fit Checking systems”.  That’s a lot of teaching and testing for no improvement in reducing NIHL.

Dr. Barry Bessler, in a speech to the National Hearing Conservation Association in 2007  tried to explain why rational, intelligent, normal people would turn up their digital music players loud enough to hurt their ears. Dr. Bessler’s answer was reasoned and complex.  One of the points he made is relevant to this conversation. He theorized that our sense of hearing is “hard wired” to our sense of safety.  Impair hearing and we don’t feel safe. In wanting to keep “in touch” with our environment, to feel safe, we need to be able to hear.  Therefore, if we are using hearing protection it must not block our ability to hear.  It must just make it safe to do so.  Given that most types of hearing protection substantially reduce our ability to hear our environment, will workers keep these protectors in their ears?  The evidence seems to indicate that they won’t.

This brings me back to my original point, in developing systems/machines to measure attenuation are we solving the problem of NIHL.  So what  we need to do is not worry about how much noise reduction a properly-worn hearing protector may provide if inserted in total compliance with the manufactuer’s instruction. What we need to worry about  is whether the protector is providing sufficient noise reduction for the noise in which the wearer works. Instead of using these systems/machines to teach, we should be using them to verify.


If Joe is  is carrying a noise burden of 92 dBA  and he needs only 17 dB of noise reduction to be safe  and can get a consistent 17 dB of noise reduction from an earplug with an NRR of 33 dB, GOOD! Joe doesn’t have to be taught how to get 33 dB of noise reduction. Or, in the case of a custom earplug, one should be made for Joe that givens him 17 dB of noise reduction.


I’m afraid I have my doubts that such a direction will be taken.  We need to be talking about making hearing protection as invisible to hearing as safety glasses are to vision. Instead, we have made them as cumbersome as full-face respirators.

In the interest of full disclosure Custom Protect Ear sells and supports the FitCheck and FitCheck Solo attenuation measurement systems. We do so understanding that they can be used as a tool to teach the effectiveness of hearing protection.  


ASSE Safety Show If you have something to add to this discussion, and you will be attending ASSE 2013 in Las Vegas this June, please come by and share it with me.
Custom Protect Ear is in booth # 551.

If you won’t be there, drop me a line to


Jeffrey Goldberg | President
Custom Protect Ear


May 30, 2012
Hearing women

Come and check out when and where the Custom Protect Ear Team will be in your area. Our technicians and hearing professionals will be able to help you understand the benefits our customized hearing protection, dB Blockers. Our Hearing protection can increase productivity while saving company risk and health costs.

Here is a list of the Summer Tradeshows and Conferences we will be at:

Custom Protect Ear Summer Tradeshows 2012

May 30-31 VPPPA – Region V Renaissance Hotel & Convention Ctr – Schaumburg, Il

The association offers a number of educational sessions, workshops, conferences and networking opportunities, sponsored by VPPPA national or VPPPA chapters. This page displays VPPPA functions in chronological order. Links to registration forms are provided where applicable.

June 3-5 ASSE Colorado Convention Center

The Conference attracts the leaders in safety by offering top quality programming and networking opportunities. The range of conference topics combined with the quality of speakers makes this educational program the most engaging in the industry. The sessions provide leading edge education which ties in to the hands-on opportunities that can be seen on the exhibit floor. This is the perfect combination to attract your best prospects to the SAFETY Exposition!

Denver Co June 7-8 Elko Mining Expo Elko – Convention Center

For the past 27 years, the Elko Convention & Visitors Authority has hosted the annual ELKO MINING EXPO. It is one of the oldest and most respected mining expos held in the United States and draws close to 8,000 people, nationally and internationally, to its mining industry exhibits.

Vendors that exhibited in 2011 will have first right refusal to their booth space for 2012 and Registration packets will automatically be emailed out to those previous vendors. They will have until March 12th to secure their space with full payment. At that point we will begin releasing booths to vendors on waiting lists that have been compiled. The Interior booth space list is open but only to current exhibitors. The Mining Mall & Exterior will be your best bet. If you would like we would be happy to place you on the waiting list.

June 20-21 Atlantic – Can Petroleum Show – Mile One Stadium, Newfoundland

Atlantic Canada Petroleum Show is SOLD OUT in exhibition space, with over 150 companies participating, making this a record year for the east coast oil and gas event.  Find out who’s exhibiting, and make plans to attend on June 20 & 21!

Aug 6-8 ASSE Region III Hurst Conference Center – Texas

Founded in 1911, ASSE is the oldest professional safety organization. Its more than 33,000 members manage, supervise and consult on safety, health, and environmental issues in industry, insurance, government and education. ASSE is guided by a 16-member Board of Directors, which consists of 8 regional vice presidents; three council vice presidents; Society president, president-elect, senior vice president, vice president of finance and executive director. ASSE has 17 practice specialties, 151 chapters, 28 sections and 58 student sections.

Aug 20-23rd: 28th Annual VPPPA Conference Anaheim Convention Center

The 28th Annual National VPPPA Conference takes place August 20-23, 2012, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. The four-day conference offers attendees countless opportunities to network, learn and advance as leaders in occupational safety and health. Features include: two full days of workshops addressing current safety, health and environmental issues; inspiring keynote and general session speakers; the VPPPA Expo 2012 with vendors showcasing their cutting-edge products and services; and evening receptions and other social activities that provide the perfect setting for attendees to network and exchange best practices.

VPPPA conference participants represent a wide range of individuals involved in safety and health. Safety and health managers, employee safety team members, industrial hygienists, union representatives, consultants, environmental health specialists, human resource managers and government agency representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Energy (DOE) all come together for networking and education.