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New ear plug test could cut noise injuries at Bergen County jobs

Noisy work environments are commonplace for some Bergen County employees. Many workers accept the constant acoustic assault as part of the job without realizing that over time, the noise is causing irreversible hearing damage. The injury gets overlooked, since hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises often happens gradually.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates noise hazards affect 22 million employees nationwide. Work-related hearing problems rank second among all U.S. occupational illnesses. Federal labor officials reported 21,000 cases of permanent workplace hearing loss in 2009.

Ideally, companies adopt measures to lessen the risks of hearing loss by taking steps to reduce overall work noise. In some jobs, employee hearing protection devices like ear plugs or headphones are issued to minimize the effects of repeated loud noise exposure. U.S. Department of Labor guidelines require industries to develop hearing conservation practices when noise levels reach and exceed 85 decibels over an eight-hour period; a slightly higher level of 90 decibels is permitted in the construction industry.

NIOSH has been concerned about the effectiveness of hearing protectors. The agency believes a significant amount of worker hearing loss can be traced to protective devices that don't fit properly. Agency workers have devised a system to test hearing protectors in seven minutes or less, allowing workers to customize ear plug fit for maximum protection.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets workplace noise standards, but the Environmental Protection Agency tests and rates ear plugs. Critics say government tests don't reflect the true impact of loud noises on employees' hearing. Noise reduction advocates also believe the EPA has been lax in updating the agency's ear plug rating system and rules.

New Jersey employees sometimes don't recognize hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises at work. An attorney can help identify the injury source and assist with benefits or other compensation claims for losses due to work injuries.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "The Fit Testing Revolution" Jerry Laws, May. 01, 2014

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