The General Services Building on the Colorado State University campus

Hearing Protection Program

Introduction:

Work-related hearing loss continues to be a critical workplace safety and health issue. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the occupational safety and health community named hearing loss one of the 21 priority areas for research in the next century. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable but once acquired, hearing loss is permanent and irreversible. Therefore, prevention measures must be taken by employers and workers to ensure the protection of workers' hearing.

Contacts[+]

EHS Staff Rice, Douglas A
Laboratory Director
Ph:(970) 491-6503
Ph2:(970) 566-4109

Douglas.Rice@ColoState.EDU

Publications[+]

Useful Links[+]

How To Get A Baseline Hearing Test[+]

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers have a hearing protection program, which includes baseline audiograms (hearing tests), annual audiograms, training, and follow up procedures.

All employees exposed to noise 85 dB or above, averaged over 8 working hours, must have audiometric tests available to them at no charge. Audiometric tests are conducted by trained physicians to determine hearing abilities of the employee.

OSHA stipulates that employees exposed to 85 dB or above must have a baseline hearing test within 6 months of exposure and annual hearing tests thereafter. The annual tests are then compared to the baseline tests to assure that no hearing loss has occurred.

In order to get a baseline hearing test, CSU employees should:

  • Schedule baseline audiometric test at either:
    **AVOID WORKPLACE NOISE EXPOSURE FOR AT LEAST 14 HOURS PRIOR TO THE HEARING TEST**
    Occupational Health Services
    Poudre Valley Health System
    4674 Snow Mesa Drive #200
    Fort Collins, CO 80528
    970-495-8450
    OR Concentra
    2620 E Prospect Road #160
    Fort Collins, CO 80525
    970-221-5811
    Occupational Health Services (North)
    Poudre Valley Health System
    1025 Pennock Place #121
    Fort Collins, CO 80524
    970-495-8450
    OR Occupational Health Services (Loveland East)
    MCR South Medical Office Building
    2500 Rocky Mountain Ave #300
    Loveland, CO 80538
    970-495-8450
  • For appointments at Occupational Health Services, employees must fill out the first page of the Hearing History Form prior to the appointment and bring the entire form with them
  • Hearing test should be payed for by the employee’s department
    • Baseline hearing test prices:
      • $35 at Occupational Health Services
      • $20 at Concentra
  • Return audiometric test results received from the physician to EHS for recordkeeping
  • If hearing protection is required, EHS will provide proper training and fitting of equipment
  • Hearing tests must be performed ANNUALLY

External Link:

OSHA’s Noise Page

If you feel your work environment exceeds 85 dB (for example, if background noise is loud enough that you must shout to a person standing 3 feet away in order to be heard), contact Frank Gonzales at EHS (970-491-6745) to schedule a workplace noise evaluation.

How To Look At Noise[+]

Image CDC Look at noise

How Does Noise Harm the ear?[+]

  • Noise destroys delicate nerve cells in the inner ear that transmit sound messages to the brain.
  • The nerve cells are replaced by scar tissue which does not respond to sound.
  • The damage is painless but permanent and there is no cure.
  • Hearing aids are of some help but cannot restore normal hearing.

How Does Inner Ear Damage Affect Hearing?[+]

  • Noise mostly damages the parts of the inner ear that process high frequency sound.
  • This results in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) mainly affecting hearing for high frequency sounds rather than low frequency sounds. Many vowel sounds are pitched at the higher frequencies that are lost first.
  • With this type of hearing loss you may fall to hear nearby sounds clearly audible to others, such as the song of a bird or the rustle of a small animal in the grass (faint high frequency sounds). At the same time you may hear faint low frequency sounds, such as a car in the distance, just as well as anyone else does.
  • To a person with noise-induced hearing loss, many words sound alike and other people’s speech sound jumbled. Typical complaints are “I am not deaf" or "I can hear but I can’t understand."
  • This can lead to misunderstanding if people mistakenly think a person with this type of hearing loss:
    • Is pretending not to hear
    • Has low intelligence
    • Is deliberately being annoying

How Hearing Damage Can Be Avoided?[+]

The best way is to reduce people’s noise exposure. The main ways to do this are:

  • Decreasing the power of the source of noise. Big noise reductions can be made, for examples, simply by lining metal chutes and bins with scrap rubber conveyor belting.
  • Stopping the noise from reaching people. This can be done by moving a noisy machine away from people, by building a soundproof enclosure around it or by putting up a barrier between the machine and people.
  • Reducing the time people are exposed. Where possible, people should swap between noisy and quiet jobs so that nobody gets exposed to noise for too long.
  • Wearing personal hearing protection when necessary. If noise exposure is still excessive after all possible control measures have been taken, individual protection like earmuffs or earplugs should be worn.
  • Discolored water or other liquids
  • Substances found in boxes marked flammable, corrosive, or explosive
  • Substances found in containers marked with the traditional poison insignia - the skull and cross bones
  • Any group of unmarked containers such as plastic jugs or milk cartons empty and/or containing unknown substances

If you can see ways your workplace might be made quieter, suggest them to your supervisor, safety committee or employer.

Control Noise Exposure Outside Work[+]

Noise at work is the major cause of noise-induced hearing loss in our society, but non-work noise exposure can also cause damage. It is especially important to control non-work exposures if you already work in a noisy job. Wear hearing protectors whenever you use power saws, drills, sanders, mowers or any other noisy equipment at home. If you like your music loud, listen to it the safe way:

  • Alternate between loud and quiet music,
  • Give your ears a complete rest for ten minutes every half hour
  • Watch out for effects such as ringing in your ears or muffled hearing – if you experience such effects, take them as a warning that you are overloading your ears and change your listening habits.

If you can see ways your workplace might be made quieter, suggest them to your supervisor, safety committee or employer.

Fitting Personal Hearing Protection[+]

Unless noise exposure at work can be made safe by limiting the level and exposure time, employers have a responsibility to provide employees with suitable hearing protectors and employees have a responsibility to use them.

The main types of hearing protector are ear muffs and earplugs. Either type can provide effective protection provided it makes an airtight sea in your ear (plugs) or around it (muffs). For the best protection plugs and muffs can be used in conjunction.

EARPLUGS

Always read the instructions supplied with the earplugs.

Some earplugs – for example the compressible foam type – come in only one size. If the plugs are made in several sizes, you need the right size for each ear.

TO FIT THE PLUGS

  • Reach around your head and take hold of the back of your ear about half way down (see diagram 1)
    How to fit Ear Plugs
  • Gently pull your ear outwards and upwards to straighten your ear canal
  • Insert the plug into your ear canal with the other hand.

IF THE PLUG IS A COMPRESSIBLE FOAM TYPE

  • Roll the plug slowly and smoothly into a thin crease-free cylinder (depending on how small you roll the plug, it can take up to 30 seconds to do this, possibly longer if you haven’t done it before)
  • Immediately insert the plug well into the ear canal and hold it in place until it has begun to expand and block the noise. Aim to get three-quarters of the length of the plug into the canal.

POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • Plugs can work loose and may need to be repositioned occasionally.
  • Remove plugs slowly so that suction does not hurt your ear.

LOOKING AFTER YOUR HEARING PROTECTORS

  • Keep muffs and plugs clean with soap and water.
  • As soon as plugs become hard or damaged get a new pair
  • Don’t stretch the headband of your earmuffs – it makes them less effective.
  • Replace the cushions on your earmuffs as soon as they start to harden.
  • If your earmuffs are damaged get the damaged part replaced.

GETTING USED TO WEARING HEARING PROTECTORS

It takes two to three weeks to get used to wearing hearing protectors. Once you are used to them you will:

  • Feel less stressed while you’re working
  • Feel less tired at the end of the day
  • Know your hearing is safe

FITTING EARMUFFS

  • Inspect the muffs and note which way they are meant to be worn. Some earmuff cups are marked top or front and should be worn that way. Oval shaped cups are meant to be worn so that the oval is vertical (not as in diagram 2).
    Earmuffs worn wrong
  • Extend the headband to its maximum length (diagram 3).
    Headband to max
  • Brush as much hair as possible away from the ears (diagram 4)
    Brush hair form ears
  • Place the muffs over the ears, making sure that the ears fit right inside the cups and are not pressed against the head (diagram 5)
    Place muffs over ears
  • Holding the cups firmly in place by pressing inwards and upwards with the thumbs, tighten the headband so that it takes the weight of the cups and holds them firmly in position (diagram 6)
    Place by pressing inwards
  • Now run your fingers around the cushions to check that they are making a good seal against your head everywhere. Some things that can prevent a good seal are prominent cheek bones, an unusually deep groove behind the lower jaw, thick hair, a cap (diagram 7) and spectacle frames (diagram 8).
    Check they are good
  • If you are unable to get a good seal, try different muffs, change your spectacle frames to a thinner type or try earplugs instead.

Hearing FAQ[+]

Q: Don't we lose our hearing as we age?

A: It's true that most people's hearing test gets worse as they get older. But for the average person, aging does not cause impaired hearing before at least the age of 60. People who are not exposed to noise and are otherwise healthy keep their hearing for many years. People who are exposed to noise and do not protect their hearing begin to lose their hearing at an early age. For example, by age 25 the average carpenter has "50-year old" ears! That is, by age 25, the average carpenter has the same hearing as someone who is 50 years old and has worked in a quiet job.

Q: Can you poke out your eardrums with earplugs?

A: That is unlikely for two reasons. First, the average ear canal is about 1 1/4 inches long. The typical ear plug is between 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long. So even if you inserted the entire earplug, it would still not touch the eardrum. Second, the path from the opening of the ear canal to the eardrum is not straight. In fact, it is quite irregular. This prevents you from poking objects into the eardrum.

Q: We work in a dusty, dirty place. Should I worry that our ears will get infected by using earplugs?

A: Using earplugs will not cause an infection. But use common sense. Have clean hands when using earplugs that need to be rolled or formed with your fingers in order for you to insert them. If this is inconvenient, there are plenty of earplugs that are pre-molded or that have stems so that you can insert them without having to touch the part that goes into the ear canal.

Q: Can you hear warning sounds, such as backup beeps, when wearing hearing protectors?

A: The fact is that there are fatal injuries because people do not hear warning sounds. However, this is usually because the background noise was too high or because the person had severe hearing loss, not because someone was wearing hearing protectors. Using hearing protectors will bring both the noise and the warning sound down equally. So if the warning sound is audible without the hearing protector, it will usually be audible when wearing the hearing protector. For the unusual situations where this is not the case, the solution may be as simple as using a different hearing protector. Also, many warning systems can be adjusted or changed so warning signals are easier to detect.

Q: Won't hearing protectors interfere with our ability to hear important sounds our machinery and equipment make?

A:Hearing protectors will lower the noise level of your equipment; it won't eliminate it. However, some hearing protectors will reduce certain frequencies more than others; so wearing them can make noises sound different. In cases where it's important that the sound just be quieter without any other changes, there are hearing protectors that can provide flat attenuation.
There are also noise-activated hearing protectors that allow normal sounds to pass through the ear and only "turn-on" when the noise reaches hazardous levels. There are even protectors that professional concert musicians use that can lower the sound level while retaining sound fidelity.

Q: Will we be able to hear each other talk when wearing hearing protectors?

A:Some people find they can wear hearing protectors and still understand speech. Others will have trouble hearing speech while wearing hearing protectors. Being able to hear what other people say depends on many things: distance from the speaker, ability to see the speaker's face, general familiarity with the topic, level of background noise, and whether or not one has an existing hearing impairment. In some cases, wearing hearing protectors can make it easier to understand speech. In other instances, people may be using hearing protectors to keep out too much sound. You may need a protector that reduces the sound enough to be safe without reducing the sound too much to hear speech at a comfortably loud level. For those people who work in noise and must communicate, it may also be necessary to use communication headsets. Allow your employees to try different protectors. Some will work better than others at helping them to hear speech, and different protectors may work better for different people.

Q: How long does it take to get used to hearing protectors?

A: Think about getting a new pair of shoes. Some shoes take no time to get used to. Others, even though they are the right size, can take a while to get used to. Hearing protectors are no different from other safety equipment in terms of getting used to them. But if hearing protectors are the wrong size, or are worn out, they will not be comfortable. Also, workers may need more than one kind of protector at their job. For example, no one would wear golf shoes to go bowling. If hearing protectors are not suitable for the work being done, they probably won't feel comfortable.

Q: How long can someone be in a loud noise before it's hazardous?

A: The degree of hearing hazard is related to both the level of the noise as well as to the duration of the exposure. But this question is like asking how long can people look at the sun without damaging their eyes. The safest thing to do is to ensure workers always protect their ears by wearing hearing protectors anytime they are around loud noise.

Q: How can I tell if a noise situation is too loud?

A: There are two rules: First, if you have to raise your voice to talk to someone who is an arm's length away, then the noise is likely to be hazardous. Second, if your ears are ringing or sounds seem dull or flat after leaving a noisy place, then you probably were exposed to hazardous noise.

Q: How often should your hearing be tested?

A: Anyone regularly exposed to hazardous noise should have an annual hearing test. Also, anyone who notices a change in his/her hearing (or who develops tinnitus) should have his or her ears checked. People who have healthy ears and who are not exposed to hazardous noise should get a hearing test every three years.

Q: Since I already have hearing loss and wear a hearing aid, hearing prevention programs don't apply to me, right?

A: If you have hearing loss, it's important to protect the hearing that you have left. Loud noises can continue to damage your hearing making it even more difficult to communicate at work and with your family and friends.

Q: Where can I get a hearing test?

A: You can find information on where to get a hearing test by visiting the following Web sites:
  • The National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) at
    http://www.hearingconservation.org
  • The American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) at
    http://www.asha.org

    The site features certified clinics in a geographical area of interest. You can also obtain a list of individually certified audiologists in your area by phoning ASHA at 1-800-638-TALK ( 1-800-638-8255 ).

  • The American Academy of Audiology (AAA) at
    http://www.audiology.org

    The site features a Consumer Resources page which allows you to Locate an Audiologist. This allows you to easily locate specific individuals.

Q: Where can I get information about ringing in my ears?

A: You can find information on where to get information about ringing in your ears by visiting the following Web sites:

Q: Who can help with noise in my community?

A: You can find information on who can help you with noise in your community by visiting the following Web site: