Occupational noise is defined as noise in the workplace. High levels of occupational noise can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States. The United States Department of Labor Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has reported that more than 30 million workers in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise each year and thousands of workers every year suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Recently, Career Builder reported on some of the nosiest occupations in the U.S. Its list included agriculture, mining, plumbing, and the military, among others. A number of authoritative sources and studies, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s report on hearing conservation, have re-affirmed the impact of military service on one’s hearing capabilities and documented the growing incidence and prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss in America’s service members and veterans. As such, service members need to take special care to protect their hearing from occupational noise. This involves working together with your service’s hearing conservation programs and leadership as well as taking control of your own health by adopting proper preventative measures and healthy hearing habits.
Noise in the Military Workplace
Service members may find that they are being exposed to a variety of sources of occupational noise. Some examples are listed in HCE's "Exposing an Invisible Injury: Understanding and Preventing Hearing Loss" infographic. They include:
- Jackhammer: 1300 dB
- Gunfire: 145 dB
- Jet engine: 155 dB
- Bomb blast: 175 dB
Regardless of your job position, it is imperative to wear the appropriate hearing protective devices to ensure continued quality performance and preserve your mission readiness, as harmful noise can occur in both non-combat and combat-situations.
The Role of Hearing Conservation Programs
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) issued instruction for the implementation of Hearing Conservation Programs (HCPs) to help prevent occupational illness for DOD military and civilian personnel worldwide. Some components of the HCP include:
- Noise measurement and analysis
- Noise hazard signs and labels
- Personal hearing protectors
- Audiometric testing
- Education and Training
- Recordkeeping of hearing conservation audiometric testing data
- Program performance evaluation
According to the DoD HCP Instruction:
a. HCPs shall be implemented when personnel are occupationally exposed to (page.8):
"(1) Continuous and intermittent noise (20 to 16,000 hertz (Hz)) that has an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) noise level of 85 decibels A-weighted (dBA) or greater
(2) Impulse noise sound pressure levels (SPLs) of 140 decibels peak (dBP) or greater.
(3) Ultrasonic exposures, which occur under special circumstances that require specific measurement and hazard assessment calculations."
b. Acquisition programs shall include implementation of noise assessment and engineering control measures through the systems engineering and systems safety process as directed by Reference (d) when:
"(1) Legacy systems have recognized noise exposure concerns as indicated by personnel exposures at or above 85 dBA or 140 dBP.
(2) New systems are considered likely to create noise exposures at or above 85 dBA or 140 dBP.
(3) Communication is anticipated to be potentially impaired by background noise caused by new equipment."
HCE is launching a Comprehensive Hearing Health Program (CHHP) for the Total Force. This program is designed to eliminate NIHL through effective education, monitoring, training, and protection fitting. Currently, the HCE CHHP is focused on developing educational tools to increase service member awareness and understanding of the devastating effects of noise and NIHL as an invisible injury. The CHHP will also provide annual hearing health services to each service member, to include hearing health education, hearing protection fitting, and annual hearing testing.
Doing Your Part to Protect Your Hearing
While hearing conservation programs are an important part of preventing injury from occupational noise, service members must also play their part. HCE encourages each member of the military to be accountable for their hearing health. Here are a number of ways each individual can help prevent injury in the workplace:
Wear hearing protection devices correctly and regularly: The DoD has established design standards for new equipment or material manufactured or purchased by the military for warriors. However, all guidance regarding equipment and design standards in military-specific settings gives priority to combat readiness and performance. Because of this variability, it is crucial that all military personnel wear proper hearing protection devices in hazardous noise environments, whether in training or in actual operations.
Know your noise: Be alert and know when and where hazardous levels of noise exposure can occur. Look for signs that signal the need for hearing protective devices or warn about the risk of loud or excess noise. Avoid sounds that are too close or too loud. Ask your leadership, safety officers, or medical personnel where, when, and how to wear hearing protective devices. Make sure you not only have the proper hearing protective devices, but that you are wearing the device correctly. The efficacy of all hearing protective devices is dependent upon proper use.
Have your hearing periodically evaluated: Get your hearing screened regularly by a trained audiologist or medical professional to determine your hearing ability and to receive proper treatment and care, as needed, before damage becomes irreparable.
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