Industry leader calls for new approach to hearing protection

-- Advises safety professionals to look beyond noise reduction ratings

-- Advocates new "4-C's" approach based on human factors and technology 

Smithfield, RI -- "In spite of growing awareness of hearing loss and increased efforts to combat it, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss among industrial workers continues to rise," says industry expert Bill Sokol in a number of articles, including the recently published Grey House Safety & Security Directory. Sokol, who is VP Strategic Marketing for Howard Leight® and Bilsom® parent company, Bacou-Dalloz, cites a National Health Interview Survey that shows hearing problems among individuals aged 45-64 up 26% over the past 30 years, and calls for a new approach by safety professionals. They need to look beyond traditional Noise Reduction Ratings in protective equipment, he says, consider the human factors which undermine hearing conservation efforts, and look at new technologies just now becoming available.

"By gaining a better understanding of how workers view noise, their hearing and hearing protection devices—as well as how they actually use safety protection tools on the job—safety professionals can make better purchasing choices and help reduce the likelihood of continued noise-induced hearing loss incidents." He advocates an approach based on what he calls the "four C's—Caring, Comfort, Convenience, and Communication."

The first step, he says, is to help workers understand and care about hearing protection. "For many workers, hearing loss is a remote threat at best," he says. "Many people don't realize that the impact of hazardous noise is cumulative, and even brief periods without protection can generate real, lasting hearing loss." This requires an educational effort.

Safety officers must also make sure hearing protection devices are comfortable, convenient to use, and fitted correctly. "Our research clearly indicates that comfort is a prime driver of how diligently people will wear hearing protection."

Sokol cites several new product technologies that enhance comfort and usability, including a new Matrix earplug from Howard Leight, which utilizes high-tech, dual-density polyurethane foam to create a smooth-skinned cylinder with a stiff inner core. The plugs not only fit different ear canal sizes more comfortably, they require no rolling to insert and provide immediate protection. Another new technology, included in a Howard Leight product called SmartFit®, allows the plug to change shape as it warms to body temperature and conform perfectly to the wearer's ear canal.

New comfort and usability features extend to earmuff products, as well. Sokol points to new Bilsom headband designs, which include soft, ventilated inner surfaces to prevent heat and perspiration buildup; adjustable outer headbands to ensure a comfortable fit and avoid slippage; and unique multiple position headbands that allow the earmuff to be worn with helmets, respirators, shields and other equipment. Softer ear cushions also promote increased comfort and create a better seal, while a snap-in design allows easy replacement, extending the life of the earmuff for maximum usability.

But the biggest need Sokol sees is to enhance a worker's ability to communicate while wearing hearing protection on the job. "It's ironic," he says, "that in order to protect workers from permanent hearing loss, we subject them to temporary hearing loss." Sokol cites a growing body of research that suggests links between the inability to hear while wearing hearing protection and industrial accidents. In addition, workers who cannot communicate easily feel more isolated on the job and are less likely to be contented and productive.

A number of new products are available to facilitate protected communication, Sokol points out, using both passive and electronic solutions. One new technology resulting from advanced materials research is called 'uniform attenuation.' This enables hearing protective devices to block harmful noise while allowing other sounds, like human voices and alarms, to pass through more easily. Several products are now on the market with this capability, including the Matrix earplugs noted above, and the newly redesigned Clarity™ line of earmuffs from Bilsom.

Also of value in protecting against what Sokol calls "the dangers of overprotection," are hearing devices that are available in a number of NRR ratings. These allow users to target the level of sound attenuation to the needs of their work environment, enhancing both their ability to communicate on the job and their psychological well-being, as well as saving resources.

"After all," says Sokol, "we are dealing with human beings. If we are to reverse the growing incidence of noise-induced hearing loss, we need to consider the human elements of the equation, and choose products and tactics which will allow us to address those elements successfully."

Bilsom was founded in Sweden in 1968 and leads the industry in developing innovative sound management technologies that are used in some of the most challenging environments in the world. Bilsom is part of the Bacou-Dalloz™ Hearing Safety Group, a world leader in hearing safety.

Since its beginnings as a one-man operation more than 30 years ago, Howard Leight Industries has grown into one of the largest manufacturers of in-ear protection in the industrial market and is widely recognized as an innovator in protection and fit. Since 2001 Howard Leight has been a part of the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group. Combining the innovation and expertise of Howard Leight® Earplugs and Bilsom® Earmuffs, the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group is a world leader in hearing safety.

In 2001 Dalloz joined with Bacou to form the Bacou-Dalloz Group, the world leader in the design, manufacturing and sale of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The company employs about 6,700 people and operates 48 production facilities. Bacou-Dalloz provides unmatched head-to-toe protection through three strategic business segments: head protection (eye, hearing and respiratory), body protection (gloves, clothes and shoes) and fall protection. Bacou-Dalloz offers a full product range aimed at the manufacturing, construction, telecommunications, medical, public services and other sectors. Its products are available from its distributor partners worldwide.

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