Encourage Employees To Take Earplugs Home

OSHA requires employers to provide hearing protection for workers exposed to hazardous noise, and best practice has shown that providing a good variety of hearing protectors improves compliance. But smart employers also will encourage employees to take hearing protectors home, according to Theresa Y. Schulz, Ph.D., hearing conservation manager for Howard Leight.

"Noise hazards are not exclusive to the workplace," said Schulz, "but compensation claims for noise-induced hearing loss often are. Lawn mowers, chain saws, home workshop tools, even personal listening devices (e.g., mp3 players) and cranked up stereo systems can all add to hearing damage, but it's usually the employer who ends up paying the price."

Encouraging workers to wear hearing protection off the job as well as on makes sense for other reasons as well, Schulz said. "One of the most difficult tasks safety managers face with regard to hearing conservation is convincing employees of the risk. Talking about noise hazards present in everyday activities brings the Hearing Conservation message 'home' in a very meaningful way. It gets workers' attention, helps make earplug use habitual, and more often than not, gets the neighbors attention as well."

Send a Clear Message

It also is important that the "take 'em home" message be overt and not just tacit, said Schulz.
"Employees should not be made to feel that they are pilfering, or that management is simply looking the other way," she said. Rather, the message should be loud and clear. She recommends posting signs by disposable earplug dispensers recommending employees “Pocket a Pair for Home,” and making particular mention of the policy in training sessions and group meetings.

"Any excuse to talk about hearing conservation is one more opportunity to drive the safety message home," she said. "And specifying which hearing protectors are freely available for home use can help control costs."

What types of earplugs are best to offer? Schulz explained that while single-use foam earplugs cost less per pair, multiple-use earplugs, which can be washed and reused many times,can actually can be more economical, especially in an off-the-job setting where use is less frequent. Multiple-use earplugs can also be easier to insert.

"But everyone's ears are different," stressed Schulz. "An earplug which is comfortable and effective for one person may be uncomfortable and ineffective for another. Just as offering choice works best for workplace compliance, it is also best for home use."

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