Hearing loss is undoubtedly one of the biggest health care issues that face our ageing population and much of this is due to noise exposure in the workplace. This condition is permanent and so far there is no effective treatment. The only thing that can actively make a difference is by eliminating the source of the noise in the workplace environment. This is usually done via the use of hearing protection devices (e.g. earplugs or earmuffs), however the effectiveness of these devices is very much dependent on the regular use of these aids by workers as well as the fit and quality of the devices themselves.
Although almost every large noise producing company in the US has policies regarding the use of hearing loss devices, there was not much evidence looking at the efficacy of these programs on the hearing of the workers within these companies. So the Cochrane collaboration which is a large group of researchers who aim to put all the best evidence together in order to generate powerful reviews on topics such as this, looked at hearing loss strategies and came to the following conclusions.
Cochrane put together a systematic review that was aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to influence workers to wear hearing protection to decrease their exposure to noise. A total of 3917 participants from six different large-scale studies on this topic were evaluated. The evidence from this review shows that tailored interventions whereby the use of communication or other types of interventions that were specific to a group or individual and aim to change the behavior of that group or individual were superior. By superior they mean that those completing tailored interventions as described above were more likely to actually use the hearing protective devices than those undergoing no intervention at all. Cochrane then went on to conclude that individually tailored education was more effective in improving the use of hearing protective devices when compared with target education programs which address shared worker characteristics. However the most effective intervention came in the form of long lasting school based interventions which improved the use of hearing protection substantially, perhaps reiterating the point that you cant teach an old dog new tricks.
Although this review shows us that the interventions that are currently in use are better than no intervention at all. It must be said that better interventions to enhance the use of hearing protection need to be developed and evaluated to improve the prevention of noise induced hearing loss among workers. We know that hearing protective devices do work when used properly by workers and now the challenge lies in getting everyone to wear them to save their hearing in the future.