SMITHFIELD, RI -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide hearing protection for workers exposed to hazardous noise. Best practice has shown that providing a good variety of hearing protectors improves compliance. But smart employers will also encourage employees to take hearing protectors home, says Howard Leight's Theresa Y. Schulz, PhD.
"Noise hazards are not exclusive to the workplace," says Schulz, Hearing Conservation Manager for Howard Leight, "but compensation claims for noise-induced hearing loss often are. Lawn mowers, chain saws, home workshop tools, even personal listening devices 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. 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."
It is also important that the "take 'em home" message be overt and not just tacit, says Schulz. "Employees should not be made to feel that they are pilfering, or that management is simply looking the other way," she says.
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 says. "And specifying which hearing protectors are freely available for home use can help control costs."
What types of earplugs are best to offer? Schulz says that while single-use foam earplugs cost less per pair, multiple-use earplugs which can be washed and reused many times, can actually 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," says 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."
For more information visit www.howardleight.com.
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