By Lt. A. Brooke Gordon, MSC, Branch Clinic Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
As the regional Occupational Audiologist Officer (OAO) for Naval Hospital Bremerton, I oversee the Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) for 56 USN and USMC commands throughout the region resulting in more than 20,000 hearing tests completed annually.
The HCP has five testing facilities located at Naval Hospital Bremerton, Branch HealthClinic(BHC) Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bangor Behavior Health and Education Center, BHC Bangor, BHC Everett and the Mobile Occupational Hearing Conservation Audiology
Vehicle (MOHCAV). A lead audiology technician is responsible for equipment maintenance, troubleshooting, and calibration throughout the region as well as assisting the OAO with certifying hearing conservation technicians (HCTs). Twenty one certified hearing conservation technicians are responsible for as much as 95 percent of all testing completed in the region.
To successfully manage the HCP, a multidisciplinary approach is necessary. I not only see patients, which accounts for at least 50 percent of my workload, I also provide hearing loss prevention services by collaborating with occupational health, command medical, industrial hygiene, command safety officers and advocates, as well as supervisors to assess the command’s HCP and provide recommendations for process improvements. I encourage commands to contact me to utilize my expertise and provide education and training for their employees, especially if they are noticing a significant trend in noise related hearing injuries.
Hearing loss and tinnitus are the top two disabilities that veterans report for compensation claims. In 2010, almost two billion dollars in costs were reported by the Veteran’s Administration related to hearing and hearing injury services. This number doesn’t even include civilian workers submitting similar claims through the Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs (OWCP). In 2013 over the course of a six month period, more than $2.4 million was spent on hearing and hearing injury services for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard alone.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a major problem in industrial and military settings given the nature of some of the jobs. What I don’t think people understand is that NIHL is 100 percent preventable with proper use of hearing protection and, in some cases, use of administrative controls. All it takes is knowing when and how to properly wear hearing protection.
The “Three Feet Rule” is a good rule of thumb for knowing when to wear hearing protection. If you are within that distance of another person and the two of you have to raise your voice to be able to be heard, the noise is most likely loud enough to damage your hearing. As for the how, this depends on the type of hearing protection you are wearing. Ensuring that the hearing protector fits each of your ears, is inserted deeply enough, and creates a seal will help you prevent NIHL. People should also be aware of what they are exposing themselves to at home. MP3 players, at maximum volume, have an output of around 105dB. This can cause damage to hearing after only three minutes of listening.
I want to reiterate that noise induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable; it just takes personal responsibility for your personal health and wellbeing. If more information is desired regarding noise induced hearing loss or education and training opportunities, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 476-9393.