By Larine Barr, Hearing Center of Excellence
A Department of Defense policy will soon require fit testing of hearing protectors for DoD personnel exposed to certain noise levels, according to the Defense Health Agency’s Hearing Center of Excellence.
The change is an update to Department of Defense Instruction 6055.12 “Hearing Conservation Program” and is expected to be released by the end of 2022.
Hearing protector fit tests measure the amount of noise reduction or attenuation a hearing protector provides when worn. This measurement is called the Personal Attenuation Rating, or PAR.
The new requirement calls for an initial fit test of hearing protectors for those who have documented noise exposure greater than or equal to 95 decibels over an eight-hour time-weighted average and who are enrolled in a hearing conservation program. ‘hearing, said the US Air Force. Colonel Samuel Spear, head of the Hearing Center of Excellence, a branch of the Research Portfolio Management Division of the Defense Health Agency’s Directorate of Research and Engineering.
Spear said fit testing will also be necessary in these situations:
• A service member tests positive for a significant threshold change, otherwise known as hearing loss, in a periodic audiogram.
• Physical changes in a person’s ear canal result in an improper fit of their assigned hearing protectors.
• The main type of fitted hearing protection is no longer available to the employee.
• “Early warning” hearing loss occurs. This occurs when a person’s hearing deteriorates by 15 decibels at one of the following frequencies: 1000, 2000, 3000 or 4000 hertz.
Spear said, however, that these are the minimum criteria for fit testing hearing protectors in the DoD and service components may have different requirements.
“Each service component may institute more stringent requirements to better meet the needs of their respective hearing conservation program,” he said.
Test protective equipment to ensure it is ready
“Fit testing of hearing protectors helps prepare service members because it can mitigate the occurrence of significant threshold changes and hearing-related fitness for duty assessments,” Spear said.
The tests are also accurate.
“Fit testing of hearing protectors is a proven way to quantitatively measure the amount of noise reduction a person gets from their specific hearing protector,” said Dr. Theresa Schulz, head of the prevention section at the Hearing Center. of Excellence, which leads efforts to announce and guide policy change across the DoD. “Fit testing can be used to determine if the person is not getting adequate protection, and they can resolve the issue through training or finding another type of hearing protection.”
There are many benefits to performing fit testing, which is recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a best practice in hearing conservation. According to Schulz, fitting tests can identify workers at risk of noise-induced hearing loss due to improper fitting of hearing aids, help staff choose the right device for their work environment, train workers to fit and use hearing protection correctly and reduce induced noise. hearing loss for members enrolled in hearing conservation programs.
Schulz said the Hearing Center of Excellence will distribute information to affected organizations on how to comply with its implementation prior to the release of the updated DoD policy.
“We’re here to help and answer any questions services may have to enable a successful launch and implementation of this new requirement,” Schulz said.