The ASHA position statement regarding the role of the audiologist in occupational hearing conservation defines occupational hearing conservation as the "prevention of significant, permanent hearing loss resulting from on-the-job exposure to ototoxic or ototraumatic agents (of which noise is the most common) in workers (employees and military personnel)." Nonoccupational hearing conservation refers to the "prevention of significant, permanent hearing loss resulting from off-the-job exposure to ototraumatic agents (most commonly noise) in persons of all ages." Audiologists, by virtue of education and training, play an important role in the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing conservation is a vital preventive medicine service provided by all audiologists, regardless of their work setting. Although some audiologists work directly as managers of occupational hearing conservation programs in industry, others are engaging in patient education in their clinics or school settings.
Occasionally, audiologists working in a clinical setting are called upon by a business or a local industry where there are noise-exposed workers to provide hearing conservation services. It is important for the audiologist considering taking on such an effort to be well informed about noise-induced hearing loss, prevention of hearing loss, and the regulations that govern occupational noise exposure. The audiologist must ensure that any hearing conservation program provides for the identification and evaluation of noise hazards, control and reduction of noise in the workplace, and fitting of and training in the use of personal hearing protective devices; monitoring of hearing through audiometric testing, audiogram review, and follow-up, including referral as needed; education of workers regarding the effects of noise on hearing and health; motivation of management and workers to be committed to a hearing conservation program; record keeping; and analysis of the program's effectiveness.
Understanding the regulations is an important first step in creating an effective hearing conservation program. Although the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency that defines regulations for hearing conservation programs, other agencies such as the Mine, Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have their own regulations. The audiologist should become knowledgeable of the differences in regulations, guidelines, and best practices for state, local, and federal agencies and for the given business or industry for which he or she provides hearing conservation services. In her article, "The Modern Evolution of Hearing Conservation Regulations," Dr. Theresa Y. Schulz, CCC-A, highlights the differences among the OSHA, MSHA, and FRA regulations and the "best practices" described by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The article first appeared in the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) newsletter, Update in the winter 2007 issue. It is reprinted in this issue of Access Audiology with the permission of CAOHC. *
Sharon L. Beamer, AuD, CCC-A
ASHA Associate Director for Audiology Professional Practices
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). The audiologist's role in occupational hearing conservation and hearing loss prevention programs [Position Statement]. Available from ASHA's Practice Policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). The audiologist's role in occupational hearing conservation and hearing loss prevention programs [Technical Report]. Available from ASHA's Practice Policy.
* ASHA plays an important role as one of nine component professional organizations (CPOs) that make CAOHC such a highly successful nonprofit educational and certifying body in the hearing conservation field. ASHA has two representatives to CAOHC: Ted Madison, regulatory affairs specialist from 3M and the current council chair, and Mary McDaniel, owner of Pacific Hearing Conservation, Inc. We are appreciative of the work and leadership of these two individuals and CAOHC in the area of hearing conservation.
This information first appeared in the Vol. 7, No. 2, March/April 2008 issue of Access Audiology.