SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The Army constantly prepares for battle against any foes, including those that come in the form of noise. More specifically, the level of noise that hinders the ability to hear properly; noise not only affects the individual but can also hamper the mission.
There are a variety of proactive measures everyone can use in this fight, but they mainly consist of re-emphasizing the use of protective gear and balancing time away from excessive noise, according to Maj. Michael J. Kwon, director of Environmental Health Services, Public Health Command – Pacific.
Kwon methodically described the importance of efforts conducted by the Army in preserving the hearing of its service members.
“We have industrial hygienists that help us,” Kwon said, but hearing is just one area on which they focus.
The industrial hygienists' primary specialty is working toward recognizing those things in the work environment that may cause someone to be sick, and lessening the effects of those hazards.
Industrial hygienists use standards of measure provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which advises that workers not be exposed to noise levels above 90 decibels (dBA) during a regular workday, said Kwon.
Measures higher than 90 dBA can degrade a person’s hearing over time.
OSHA suggests noise levels may be too high if a person hears ringing or humming from their ears when leaving work; has to shout to be heard by a coworker at an arm’s length away; or experiences temporary hearing loss when leaving work.
With more than 480,000 Army members serving worldwide and the diverse military occupational skills that accompany them, there is bound to be an array of noise levels. Some locations will inherently leave workers with the need for hearing protection on a regular basis, such as being on a flight line, loading and unloading cargo from a vessel, or even driving military vehicles.
Regular exposure to any of those can easily result in hearing loss, said Allen Green, security officer for PHC-P.
Green spent 20 years in the Air Force, mostly assigned to security forces, surrounded by the sounds of jet engines, loud vehicles and an array of weapons that impacted his hearing. Green now wears hearing aids to help with his day-to-day activities.
Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected with hearing aids or surgery, according to OSHA. They are preventable conditions that, with awareness can be diminished.
Throughout the year, observances are scheduled to bring attention to numerous topics. May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, and the services observe Save Your Hearing Day on May 31.
The Army takes its concern with hearing loss prevention a step further by creating a greater emphasis on the use of appropriate protective gear now, particularly when on a firing range.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, range noise can reach levels above 160 dBA. That is when the use of double hearing protection, such as wearing both earplugs and earmuffs, is highly recommended, said Kwon.
The Army has equipment such as sound level meters and noise dosimeters to measure noise exposure levels, but everyone can self-assess their intake of higher than recommended noise levels. The use of applications on cell phones or smart watches can be advantageous to alerting someone that the volume is too loud when listening to music or while playing video games.
Using technology properly can be helpful to our hearing, Kwon said, but turning it off occasionally can be just as valuable.
With numerous artificial sounds surrounding him, Kwon recommends leaving work and all electronic equipment behind occasionally, and instead surround yourself with nature and its sounds.
"It’s not just for your hearing, but for your overall well-being," he added.