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Hearing the safety message

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While noise hazards have not changed significantly in the past twenty years, the ability to protect construction workers has advanced significantly, according to Brad Witt, audiology and regulatory affairs manager for the Hearing Safety Group of PPE industry leader Bacou Dalloz .

Better technology in noise measurement, innovations in hearing protection devices (HPDs), and a heightened understanding of how to manage competing hazards can all contribute to improved hearing conservation efforts in construction and similar industries.

“We definitely see a trend toward protecting workers who were previously considered ‘unprotectable,’ such as construction workers,” said Witt in recent remarks.

“A construction job site is constantly on the move, with warning signals coming from any direction at any time. For years workers rationalised their avoidance of hearing protectors by claiming their awareness of more dangerous hazards (falls, electrocutions, and traumatic blows) would be compromised. But noise-induced hearing loss no longer has to be ‘the price we pay’ for working in construction.”

According to Witt, hearing protection devices are now available that address workers’ concern of overprotection.

These products protect workers without sacrificing communication and warning signal detection.

HPDs come in a wide range of attenuation levels, giving workers the freedom to select the right level of protection for their specific job.

Several earplugs and earmuffs have even been designed with speech communication in mind, providing uniform attenuation across all frequencies so that voices of co-workers can be heard with less distortion. Electronic earmuffs can also enhance communication by amplifying ambient sounds‹including speech and warning signals‹to a safe level, while protecting against louder, more damaging noise.

“Construction job sites require hearing protectors that fit with other PPE, such as hard hats, respirators, visors and face shields,” said Witt.

Special application products, such as earmuffs that slot onto helmets or neckband earmuffs worn around the neck, are readily available along with other HPDs such as banded earplugs and folding earmuffs that provide easy storage and portability, and make it easy to carry protection at all times for unexpected noise exposure.

“And since nobody on a construction job site wants to take the time to wash their hands each time they roll down a foam earplug,” Witt added, “innovative no-roll models have been developed which can be inserted simply by pushing the earplug into the ear canal.”

“Australian national standards [NOHSC: 1007(2000)] are quite specific regarding an employer’s obligation to protect worker hearing,” said Witt.

“And hearing protector device technology is available to help. By making HPDs more comfortable and convenient to wear, and by offering protectors that improve the worker’s ability to communicate, we hope to remove those barriers which have hindered the use of these devices, and have left a generation of hearing impaired workers in their wake.”

This article appears in the May 2006 issue Australian Mining magazine.

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