Can you discuss the use of hearing protection devices for employees that are already wearing hearing aids?
Hearing protection for employees that wear hearing aids must be determined on a case-by-case basis in consultation with employee, the audiologist and the employer. In general, a hearing aid is not a hearing protector. Yes, we can use aggressive output limiting in hearing aids, but the question is whether we can maintain an acoustic seal over time in order to offer passive protection as well. With a full earmold without venting, there is some degree of assurance regarding an acoustic seal. However, due to vents or a loose fitting, that usually is not the case. In some instances, deep canal hearing instruments can be worn underneath earmuffs, so the employee can still get input via the hearing aids without feedback. Some employees may work under conditions where they can wear ear protection and don't need to wear their hearing aids, while others will want/need their hearing aids during work. Therefore, we need to consider each employee on an individual basis.
OSHA has an informational Safety and Health Information Bulletin regarding hearing conservation for employees with hearing loss, and it is a good resource on this topic. It can be found at www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib122705.html.
This Ask the Expert question was based on information in the recorded course, "Investigating Work-Related Hearing Shifts", www.audiologyonline.com/ceus/recordedcoursedetails.asp?class_id=11343.
Laurie Wells is a board-certified audiologist and Manager of Audiology for Associates in Acoustics, Inc. She received her Master's degree from University of Arizona and her clinical doctorate degree from Pennsylvania College of Optometry, School of Audiology. Laurie is a certified Professional Supervisor of the Audiometric Component of a Hearing Conservation Program. As a consultant to companies nationwide, she provides professional audiology review of hearing conservation programs to ensure effective protection from noise hazards to both employers and employees. This includes audiometric database analysis, assessment of hearing protection devices, and employee/employer education, worker's compensation reviews, and employee noise exposure assessment for both hearing conservation and regulatory compliance. Laurie represents the American Academy of Audiology on the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC), and is an active CAOHC Course Director. She has taught numerous seminars, graduate audiology courses, and made frequent presentations at state and national conferences. Laurie is past-president of the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA), and served on the NHCA board from 1999 - 2006.