Hearing Protector Fit-Testing: Hear to Stay

By: Laurie Wells, Contributor

Hearing protector fit-testing was recognized as a best practice in hearing conservation in 2008 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Alliance. Since then, individual fit-testing of hearing protectors has grown worldwide as an integral part in occupational hearing loss prevention programs.

The importance of hearing protector fit-testing is evident:

  • There is a growing list of countries that include hearing protector fit-testing in standards and guidance documents (see chart, below).
  • The American Industrial Hygiene Association 6th Edition Noise Manual includes a chapter dedicated to hearing protector fit-testing.
  • Numerous scientific studies have been published.
  • Multiple hearing protector fit-test systems using various methods are commercially available.
  • Standards exist to advise purchasers (EN 17479:2021) and manufacturers of hearing protector fit-test systems (ANSI/ASA S12.71-2018).

In the U.S., the recently revised OSHA Technical Manual includes information on how hearing protector fit-testing can be a helpful tool for employers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) supports hearing protector fit-testing as a component of a Total Hearing Health® approach and recognizes the benefits of individually assessing hearing protector attenuation.

New evidence supports that hearing protector fit-testing is a more favorable approach than applying a “derating” factor to a single number rating (such as the Noise Reduction Rating), when estimating attenuation achieved by workers. The U.S. Department of Defense is increasing use of hearing protector fit-testing in intervention efforts.

Hearing protector fit-testing has the potential to change hearing loss prevention outcomes. There are known successes, yet there remain some definitive barriers still to overcome. Toward the goal of advancing the science and practice of hearing protector fit-testing, NHCA is hosting the International Hearing Protector Fit-Testing Symposium August 18-19, 2023.

Select National/Regional References Related to Hearing Protector Fit-Testing

About the Author:

Laurie Wells, 3M, is an Audiologist/Regulatory Specialist and National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) Expert. Visit NHCA at: https://www.hearingconservation.org/

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