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Hearing Conservation Programs in the Military

DOD Military Hearing Conservation

Identifing when hearing conservation measures were adequate to protect the hearing of service members derives from legislative language. The legislation requested that the committee identify when audiometric measures used by the military became adequate to evaluate individual hearing loss (threshold shift) and when hearing conservation measures to prevent hearing loss were available to service members. The evaluation of hearing conservation programs is not a simple task of either assessing a checklist of necessary components or performing a straightforward analysis of an audiometric database. This chapter describes key aspects of hearing conservation programs and reviews the development and adequacy of programs in the military. Current hearing conservation programs do not include monitoring or prevention of tinnitus. The relationship between noise exposure and tinnitus is not yet well understood. However, the committee makes the presumption that measures taken to protect against noise-induced hearing loss are likely to help in the prevention of tinnitus. Thus, many of the elements of a hearing conservation program could be applied to prevention of tinnitus as well as hearing loss.

Key Elements of DOD Hearing Conservation Programs: 

Element: Noise hazard identification; 
Purpose: Measure noise levels in all potentially hazardous noise work 
areas, evaluate and prioritize the risk in those areas, and keep an 
inventory of hazardous noise areas. 

Element: Safety signs and labels; 
Purpose: Use signs to identify entrances to and boundaries of 
hazardous noise areas and labels to designate equipment that can 
produce hazardous noise. 

Element: Noise mitigation; 
Purpose: Eliminate exposure to hazardous noise by implementing 
engineering and administrative controls and by providing and requiring 
the use of hearing protection devices. 

Element: Education and training; 
Purpose: Inform personnel of the effects of noise on hearing, the 
ability of hearing protectors to reduce exposure to noise, the purpose 
of hearing protection, the purpose of audiometric testing, the proper 
use of hearing protection and the actions to be taken for failure to 
wear the hearing protection. 

Element: Audiometric surveillance; 
Purpose: Evaluate hearing levels of personnel through audiometric 
testing and maintain records of all audiometric testing in a hearing 
conservation database and in the individual's health record, along 
with noise exposure information. 

Element: Program evaluation; 
Purpose: Use the information stored in the hearing conservation 
database to annually evaluate the hearing conservation program's 
effectiveness based on the percent of enrolled personnel who received 
annual audiograms and on the prevalence of significant threshold 
shifts (STS)[A].
Department of Defense Policy
–DOD Hearing Conservation Programs will not use age corrections when determining STS
–The 15 dB shift at 1, 2, 3 or 4 k Hz will be dropped from the DOD STS definition, but will be retained as an early warning flag.  No follow-up will be required when a 15dB shift occurs
–Reportable hearing loss cases will be recorded on the OSHA 300 log for civilian personnel and on the DA Form 285 for military personnel

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