Because noise-induced hearing loss usually happens gradually and the symptoms are not always apparent, it is vital to educate employees on the effects of exposure to loud noise and train them to properly use hearing protection.
Employee training is one of the most important components of an occupational Hearing Conservation Program (HCP). Even a well-designed HCP can fall short of the goal of preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) if the employees don’t know how excessive noise exposure can harm them or haven’t learned the behaviors that are necessary to reduce their risk. Employers may be able to improve the success of their hearing loss prevention efforts by strengthening worker training programs to address not only the KNOWLEDGE of the people involved but also their ATTITUDES and BEHAVIORS.
One of the keys to successful training is to incorporate active learning. People learn and retain more information when they are actively involved in the learning process. The good news is that employee training programs don’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Whether you develop and conduct training yourself or hire an expert to do it for you, many of the tools and methods are available and ready to use or customize to your workforce. With some creativity and effort to make the materials engaging and relevant to the work being done at your facility you can boost the effectiveness of your training program.
All employees with TWA noise exposures of 85 dBA and higher must participate in training but what about other employees? People in your facility who frequently go in and out of noisy areas may be required to wear hearing protection even though their TWA noise exposure is below 85 dBA. They certainly could benefit from training. Likewise managers and other employees whose noise exposures are below the action level (AL) may find the training to be useful, especially as it relates to protecting their own hearing off the job or when helping their employees.
You will want to describe up front what you would like the people in your HCP to learn during annual training. Be sure your objectives include specific skills that workers need to develop, such as proper use of hearing protection, along with facts and information about noise and hearing loss prevention. You may find it easier to develop worker training activities when the learning objectives are clearly defined.
There are many options for delivering employee training ranging from traditional, instructor-led classroom activities to animated, computer-based e-learning modules. Group training and individual employee training are often equally effective when it comes to learning information. However, when it comes to learning new behaviors, one-on-one or small-group training may be more effective.
You will find a wealth of training resources online, including free, downloadable content that you can blend into your own training program. If time and resources are limited, consider purchasing ready-to-use training materials or hiring a third party to conduct the training and provide the materials. It is typically best to customize your training as much as possible to include information, images and examples from your own company. It may be easier to engage your workers and keep their attention when they feel like the content is relevant to the work they do and specific to your facility.
Since learning styles differ from one employee to another, you will likely want to present information using various methods including written materials, video, audio and hands-on experiences. On method to make hearing conservation training meaningful for each person is to create materials that prompt the employee to think about the potential negative impact of NIHL on a personal level and how s/he will benefit from hearing well.
Training materials may also need to be translated into languages other than English to facilitate learning for all the employees who attend training. You will also want to ensure the materials you use are at the right educational level for your work force – not too simplistic or too in-depth.
It’s a good practice to schedule employee training at times and locations that will accommodate work and production schedules and at a time of day when employees are attentive, alert, and focused. People who are tired, distracted or overwhelmed are less likely to learn new ideas or behaviors.
Lastly, you should consider how you can make the training activities more interactive, for instance, using active learning techniques such as demonstrations, discussions, and games.
Learning objectives created when you developed your training can be used to check learning during or after training sessions. Training outcomes can be measured using a simple pen and paper questionnaire or an e-mail survey after the training is completed. For a more immediate gauge of what people are learning, consider using a real-time polling system during the training activities.
Remember to measure any changes in the attitudes and behaviors of your employees in addition to changes in their knowledge about the effects of hazardous noise on hearing and how to protect themselves in noise. One of the most direct ways to measure a change in behavior is individual fit testing of hearing protectors. The Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR) obtained by hearing protector users can be quickly measured before training and afterward using a Field-Attenuation Estimation System (FAES), such as the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ Dual Ear Validation System. Research indicates that workers who initially achieve a low PAR are able to significantly improve their PAR (10-13 dB) immediately following training on proper use of earplugs and earmuffs. (Smith et al, 2014).
Smith, P S, Monaco, B A, Lusk, S L (2014). Attitudes toward use of hearing protection devices and effects of an intervention on fit-testing results. Workplace Health & Safety, 62 (12), 491-499.
Employers must provide annual training to each employee who is exposed to noise at or above 85 dBA, the OSHA Action Level (AL) for hearing conservation. The employer must ensure that each employee participates.
OSHA does not specify how training is to be done. The employer may choose whatever method(s) are most feasible and effective for their employees.
The training program must inform each employee about these topics:
For many people, passively reading or listening to a lecture are some of the least effective ways to learn. A 5-minute hands-on activity with a discussion immediately afterward may be more effective than a 20 minute lecture or a 5 page handout. Listening demonstrations such as simulations of hearing loss and tinnitus or listening to conversation in noise can quickly engage employees at the beginning of a training session.
People will tune out quickly if they don’t think that the topics relate to them or what they do. One idea to keep the session relevant is to ask employees to think of their favorite sound, and how they would feel if they could no longer hear and enjoy that sound. Such engagement makes the training personal. You could also invite workers to consider what effect hearing loss and tinnitus would have on their relationship with family and friends.
You will want to make your training materials specific to your company and feature images from your facility. You should consider inviting employees who are respected by other employees to give a brief testimonial of how tinnitus or hearing loss has impacted them or how they have learned to work safely and maintain hearing ability while wearing hearing protection.
Don’t expect great results if your training is boring or lackluster. You should find ways to make it fun or at the very least memorable. Delivering the same training program year after year is not likely to keep the attention of your employees. Adding new and different content helps make the training relevant and fresh.
Annual training doesn’t have to be delivered only once per year. Consider conducting hearing conservation training in short sessions throughout the year. Shorter sessions can help prevent information overload and allow you to reinforce topics multiple times - a key technique to help people remember ideas.
Teaching others is one of the most effective ways to learn. If you have experienced employees who already understand the importance of issues related to noise and hearing, perhaps they could create or even teach one or more topics in a training session. Likewise, a young, creative employee may be able to interject some engaging activities or ideas into your program.
Another way to learn is to work on a project with a small team. As part of the training program, groups of employees could be assigned a challenge or a problem to solve that is related to the topics that must be covered in the annual training. As each team presents the results of their project, the other employees learn along with them. This is a good example of one way to keep the content relevant.
Hearing damage from excessive noise exposure is not limited to work hours. People who work in noise often participate in noisy activities outside of work. Although your company is not required to teach employees how to protect their hearing while motorcycling, mowing their own lawns or listening to music, the benefits of doing so can be significant. For starters, employees may have a more personal interest in these activities so you can capture their attention more easily by including them in training. In addition, the behaviors that workers learn in order to protect themselves outside of work may carry over into the work day, strengthening your efforts to assure compliance with hearing protection rules.
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