April 2, 2020 / Abby Roberts

What Does the Safe-in-Sound Award Mean to You? An AIHA Member Interviews the Winners

NIOSH's annual Safe-in-Sound award recognizes people and organizations who have implemented excellent hearing loss prevention programs, including engineering controls and hearing conservation, or who have contributed significantly to preserving worker hearing. Applications for next year’s award are being accepted until July 15.

“[It’s] the hearing conservation award,” said Michael Santucci, audiologist, president of Sensaphonics, and the winner of NIOSH’s inaugural Safe-in-Sound award in 2009, “and to be a recipient of that is just—I was floating! I was holding the thing up over my head screaming…I’m very excited to have it,” he added, more sedately.

On behalf of his company, Santucci received the honor, which NIOSH, in partnership with the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) and the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation, has given annually ever since. Sensaphonics was recognized for its pioneering work in combining audiology products, services, and education in pursuit of its goals in hearing loss prevention; its culture of innovation and outreach; and for raising awareness of hearing loss among audiologists, musicians, and the public. AIHA member Scott Schneider, CIH, interviewed Santucci and several other past winners, asking them: what does winning the Safe-in-Sound Award for Innovation in Hearing Loss Prevention mean to you?

Benj Kanters was an associate professor at Columbia University when he won the award in 2014 for his efforts educating audiology students and professionals on hearing awareness through his course, “Studies in Hearing,” and his workshop on hearing conservation, which he has delivered at universities and conventions across the country as well as online.

Kanters told Schneider that the award was motivation for him to continue his education work. The award, Kanters said, is “not something that says: okay, you’ve done it, you can chill out now. It’s to say: what you do is good. It’s as much an affirmation to continue your work, to show that your trajectory is good, and that there’s no reason to stop.”

Other interviewees also described winning the Safe-in-Sound Award as an affirmation of their careers. Professor John Casali, the Director of Virginia Tech’s Auditory Systems Laboratory, remarked that in most cases, audiology research is an overlooked occupation. “You write the journal paper and hope that five people in the world read it,” he said. “But in this case… some of our peers decided that we were worthy of that award, that what we had done was indeed important, and was of practical significance.” Casali and the Auditory Systems Laboratory won in 2016 for their research in hearing protection and auditory signal detection.

Michael Santucci put it simply: “If you’ve done the work, you want the recognition.”

Several winners expected that the recognition by their peers, embodied by the award, would bring them and their work material benefits. According to Mead Killion, the representative of Etymotic Research Inc., the 2010 winner, “When you start a company, you realize quickly that it’s a race to get some products that your colleagues want to buy before the money runs out. The Safe-in-Sound award gives credibility to those people who don’t know you, on the mission that you’re about.” Etymotic Research, Inc. is a research and product development group focusing on products that measure, improve, and protect hearing. The company is particularly known for its insert and isolator earphones, flat attenuated hearing protectors, and the ER-200 noise dosimeter, which the company developed.

“Right now, we’re all facing budget pressure,” said Kurt Yankaskas of the Office of Naval Research’s Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) Program, which won the 2019 Safe-in-Sound Award. “So the fact that we’re being recognized as a benefit to the community—hopefully, even Congress will take an awareness of it.”

Since one in four sailors suffers from NIHL, the ONR’s program conducts needed research. The program funds research on areas including noise control for ships, aircraft, and equipment; NIHL surveillance and risk evaluation; NIHL medical treatment; and improving hearing protection for Navy personnel. It was also the first Department of Defense program to recognize tinnitus as an area of basic research. If winning the Safe-in-Sound award brings attention, and through that, financial investment to efforts like this, workers’ hearing will be better protected. Scott’s interviews make this clear, in the winners’ own words.

This year’s award went to the International Space Station’s Multilateral Medical Operating Panel’s Acoustics Sub-Working Group, and although Scott hasn’t had an opportunity to interview any of the members yet, you can read AIHA’s article on the event. You can also find more information on the winners in NIOSH’s online archive, and watch the interviews on YouTube.

Finally, if you or someone you know is passionate about hearing conservation and working to prevent hearing loss, consider filling out an application for next year’s Safe-in-Sound Award. Two awards are given: one for excellence, and one for innovation. The excellence award goes to employers that have gone above and beyond to prevent worker hearing loss. The innovation award recognizes individuals or organizations who foster, create, or implement new and unique advances in hearing conservation. If interested, apply for yourself by July 15, 2020, or nominate another by June 8. Visit the Safe-in-Sound Award website for more information!

Abby Roberts

Abby Roberts is AIHA's editorial assistant.


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