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CAOHC Newsletter: UPDATE

Hearing Protection Hygiene

Linda S. Frye, MPH RN COHN-S
CAOHC Representative of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses

Editor’s Note: Linda Frye as new Chair of the CAOHC OHC Committee will author the ‘OHC Corner’ for the UPDATE. Linda has served as faculty on CAOHC OHC courses and has been actively involved with hearing conservation programs in the workplace.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates approximately 30 million American workers experience exposures that may be hazardous to their hearing. It is often a challenge as an Occupational Hearing Conservationist (OHC) to convey the importance of prevention in the workplace to managers and employees. We perhaps can be more effective if training is ongoing and consists of a variety of presentation techniques. Personalizing the cost of hearing loss to the employee in terms of not being able to communicate with their children, enjoy music or conversation at a social gathering may be beneficial. Not only is it the law, but more importantly, hearing is one of the senses that adds to the quality of our life. We must make every effort to promote hearing conservation in the workplace, and at home.

When considering what to include in your training program, one issue related to hearing conservation which may warrant attention in your workplace relates to personal hygiene and associated health related issues. The following common sense approaches may be beneficial:

For Employee Client Training:

Instruct the employee to keep hands clean and dry when inserting ear plugs. Moisture and dirt may increase risk of infection.

The employee should wash reusable ear plugs with soap and water daily or follow the manufacturer’s instructions if different. Allow plugs to dry thoroughly before reinserting.

  • Encourage employees to replace dry, cracked and otherwise worn plugs.
  • Discourage the sharing of ear protection.
  • Be sure the plugs worn are the correct size. Improperly fitted plugs may not be afford proper protection, not be worn because of discomfort or may traumatize the ear canal and/or drum.
  • Keep ear protectors in a case when not in use so they won’t attract lint or dirt from clothing pockets or become contaminated with irritating substances.
  • The cushions in ear muffs should be cleaned as instructed by the manufacturer and replaced when they become hard or cracked.
  • Store muffs properly so they will not be at risk of being knocked to the ground or subject to dirty environments.
  • Encourage employees to clean their outer ear but to avoid scratching or digging in the ear canal with small objects with the intent of cleaning.
  • Assure employee clients that a small amount of wax actually helps protect the ear from dirt and is not a sign of poor hygiene.

For the Occupational Hearing Conservationist:

  • Drainage, pain, or obstructed ear canals should be evaluated by a doctor.
  • Be sure to clean the headset between appointments during the testing process. There are commercially available products similar to a wet wipe that are handy to use and do not damage the cushions. Your medical supply vendor or the manufacturer of audiometers should be able to assist you with the purchase of the product. Alcohol may also be used for cleaning the headset, but this may affect the longevity of the cushions.
  • Change the specula on the otoscope after every visual client exam.

Employee involvement is a vital part of any hearing conservation program. By working together we can prevent hearing loss.

Author’s note: The goal of the ‘OHC Corner’ is to assist in meeting the ongoing needs of those working with employee clients on a regular basis. If you have questions, please forward them to the CAOHC office (address on back page). Every effort will be made to respond to your concerns in future issues of the UPDATE.