The Noise Committee has considered a number of critical issues during this last decade. These have included:
It is the consensus of the Noise Committee that the next decade will include continuing work on these issues and more. Several additional concerns are emerging from research, field studies, and program administration, including:
New research is indicating that commonly used chemicals, particularly organic solvents, asphyxiants, and metals, may pose a direct risk to hearing. In addition, these ototoxic agents may have a synergistic effect with noise exposure, such that the damage resulting from concurrent exposure to both noise and ototoxins may exceed the damage that would be anticipated from either agent alone.
Hearing protection devices (HPD) will likely remain our last line of defense against noise hazards for some time to come. While great progress has been made in finding better ways to determine HPD effectiveness, questions remain regarding HPD performance evaluation; HPD selection appropriate for moderate noise environments; and overcoming the regulatory barriers to implementing new science and standards in this area.
Data management and program effectiveness evaluation are pending issues. Hearing conservation programs have resulted in the collection of many, many data points; how this data can effectively be managed and used to assess program effectiveness is an open question.
Evidence is mounting that exposing a pregnant woman to excessive noise, particularly at critical gestational junctures, may pose a risk to the hearing of the unborn. ACGIH has adopted a criteria for fetal exposure, but much work remains to be done.
Some new regulations are pending which will have a significant effect on the management of noise exposure and hearing in the workforce, including a pending ANPR regulating noise in construction, and the revision to CFR 1904, the federal recordkeeping rule.
NIOSH's use of the term Hearing Loss Prevention in lieu of hearing conservation in the 1998 Criteria Document reflects a new perspective on noise and hearing management.
These emerging issues may have implications for the practicing industrial hygienist by changing the way we think about and address noise exposure and the management of hearing in the workplace. The Noise Committee will continue to stay abreast of these emerging issues.