From: Reuters
Published February 19, 2008 11:37 AM

Training encourages workers to protect hearing

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Noise-filled occupations can lead to hearing loss, but even one hour of training could encourage more workers to take the risk seriously, new research suggests.

In a pilot study of 23 construction workers, researchers found that a one-hour session on lowering the risk of hearing damage increased workers' use of ear plugs and similar protective equipment.

It's well known that noisy work environments, in industries such as manufacturing, transportation and construction, can eventually cause some hearing loss. Controlling noise sources is considered the best way to protect workers' hearing, but workplaces often rely on protective equipment to do the job.

Many workers, however, fail to use such equipment consistently. Often they find ear plugs uncomfortable or feel they obstruct things they need to hear. In some cases, workers are not sure if the surrounding noise levels are loud enough to warrant ear protection.

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For the current study, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle tested a program they developed to educate workers on the risk of noise-induced hearing loss and how to use protective equipment.

Workers at a single construction company went through the one-hour session, then were surveyed over the next two weeks. Overall, the study found, the workers' use of protective equipment doubled after the training session compared with before.

Dr. Richard Neitzel and his colleagues report the findings in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

In a related study, the researchers also found that construction company employees could be successfully trained to deliver the program to their co-workers. The study, which included nine construction companies, found that trained employees did about as well as an "expert" -- a researcher in industrial safety -- in teaching the course.

The findings suggest that the program would be effective outside the research setting, in the real world, according to Neitzel's team.

They are continuing to study whether workers need "booster" courses over time to keep up their improved safety habits.

SOURCE: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, February 2008.

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