Cynthia Cooper is the industrial hygiene technical advisor for the Division of Safety and Hygiene in the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Within her job position, she provides technical direction and resources to her field staff of hygienists as well as employers in the field. “We have consultants available for industrial hygiene assistance, general safety for industrial and construction, and we have ergonomists on staff as well,” Cynthia explained, “all available to employers for consultation with safety and health issues within their facilities.”
Cynthia felt a personal connection to industrial hygiene because she comes from a family of blue-collar workers, and she felt that she could make a difference by helping to make workplaces safer for those workers. She gave us some great advice on hearing conservation based on her experience in the field.
Inadequate Hearing Protection in the Workplace
Hearing conservation is one of Cynthia’s areas of focus within her role. “When I’m in the employers’ worksites and I see hearing protection in use, it's frequently worn improperly—especially if it’s earplugs,” she said. “We see earplugs being misused every day.” Neglecting to use hearing protection, using the wrong PPE, or misusing it is like taking a shortcut to hearing loss. Cynthia emphasizes the importance of implementing a hearing conservation program in workplaces that are subject to noises above OSHA’s permissible exposure limit.
She recommends following a few basic steps to ensure that employees’ hearing is not compromised under your supervision:
Identify potentially unsafe noise exposures
Get an evaluation from an industrial hygienist
Explore and implement feasible engineering controls to lower noise exposures
Implement a hearing conservation program if necessary
Two major components of a new hearing conservation program are employee training and leadership involvement. Without proper training for both employees and safety leaders, improper PPE use may still be an issue.
Fit Testing Hearing Protection
One of the best ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your employees’ hearing protection is to perform a fit test. According to Cynthia, this is a fairly new capability that we’re seeing. “There are systems on the market now where you can actually fit test an individual with their earplugs, and you will know if it’s a good fit for them,” she said, “much like doing a respirator fit test and getting that fit factor when you have your respirator on.”
Poorly fitting PPE is one of the easiest ways to expose yourself to harm on the job. Simply wearing the equipment isn’t enough—you have to make sure it’s the right choice for the job, it’s in good condition, and it’s worn correctly with a proper fit.
Personal Listening Devices & the Future of Safety
The future of safety is coming, and it’s always enlightening to learn what kinds of things safety professionals are looking out for within their specific fields. For Cynthia, the future of safety means advancing hearing conservation—both in the techniques we use and the attitudes that come with it. Her idea is that employees should want to wear their PPE and that hearing protection can allow for the enjoyment of things like personal listening devices.
“It feels much like an earbud,” she explains, “and it will also protect from the work environment but limit the output of the device to a safe level.” So rather than an employee being forced to choose between listening to their preferred audio entertainment and their required PPE, they can have both. If music can be played at a safe volume at the same time that outside noise exposure is being limited, it’s a win-win!
You can browse online for a great selection of earphones for work—by visiting the major hearing protection providers websites.