A panel of hearing experts gathered at last week''s National Industrial Noise and Hearing Loss Consensus Meeting has proposed new guidelines to help reduce the healthcare and economic problems associated with noise induced hearing loss (NIHL).
The meeting, which was held in Lake Geneva, Wis., was sponsored by Southern California-based Ear Professionals International Corporation (EPIC), a nationwide alliance of hearing healthcare providers.
By focusing on new technology and education/awareness programs, the panel of physicians, government officials, corporate managers and noise consultants came up with several recommendations for reducing workplace noise exposure.
"Until now, the problem of employee hearing loss has been swept under the carpet largely due to the perceived cost of prevention and treatment," said Brad Volkmer, president and CEO of EPIC. "Simply spending more money will not necessarily solve the problem. It''s a matter of spending existing money more wisely by leveraging new technology and education programs."
After nearly 30 years of OSHA regulations to manage workplace noise, NIHL remains a serious and costly problem.
According to the National Institutes of Health, NIHL caused by occupational noise is a major industrial disease affecting up to 20 million American workers.
American industry currently spends an estimated $6 billion a year on hearing-related screening and treatment, while the costs in terms of lost productivity, lawsuits and workers'' compensation have never been calculated.
The panel''s recommendations include the following.
- Adopting new hearing test technology to screen employees. Current standardized employee hearing tests are subjective and do not measure a worker''s ability to communicate on the job.
- Adopting hearing protection technology that also enhances communication. Advanced hearing protection devices such as headsets, protect and enhance worker communication.
- Promote hearing education and awareness. Approximately 30 million Americans suffer from some sort of hearing loss and only 20 percent seek treatment. People choose to ignore the problem because of the stigma associated with hearing loss. Proper awareness and education can eliminate this and protect employees.
Volkmer said that the consensus meeting was an important first step toward the goal of reducing NIHL in the workplace.
"Beginning immediately, EPIC will disseminate the information gleaned from this conference to its 260 providers nationally, who will then begin working with business and industry on a local and regional level."
by Virginia Sutcliffe