First Responders Should Be All Ears During Better Hearing Month
Research Finds Law Enforcement and Fire Fighters Have Higher Rates of Hearing Loss, Yet Too Few Get the Treatment They Need
POMONA, Calif., May 20, 2014 – Whether face-to-face in the field, or over the telephone or radio, hearing is an important part of communication for first-responders – keeping them informed, safe and connected. Unfortunately, these front-line professionals are also at higher risk for hearing loss, and less likely to get the treatment they need to hear their best today and protect from future damage.
A recent survey of 1,500 full-time employees including 100 law enforcement personnel by EPIC Hearing Healthcare (EPIC) found that 52 percent of law enforcement personnel have a diagnosed hearing problem, versus 12 percent of workers overall. An additional 28 percent of law enforcement personnel suspect they have hearing loss, but have not sought treatment.
“While most law enforcement agencies require the use of hearing protection on the range, unprotected exposure to loud equipment, road noise, sirens and other high-intensity sounds still exists,” said Brad Volkmer, president and CEO, EPIC Hearing Healthcare. “It’s alarming – but not entirely surprising – that potentially eight out of 10 law enforcement personnel may have hearing loss.”
Fire fighters and EMTs are at higher risk as well. Hearing loss among firefighters has been well-documented by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In one assessment, 38 percent of fire fighters tested had mild to moderate hearing loss and 14 percent had severe to profound.[i] Another NIOSH study found that the severity of fire fighters’ hearing loss increased with their years of service, reinforcing the need for early detection, protection and treatment.[ii]
Impact on the Job
Untreated hearing loss can lead to poor understanding and become a safety concern. It can also affect employee health and well-being by causing excessive anxiety and stress, even contributing to depression.
According to EPIC’s survey, more than three-fourths of law enforcement personnel agree that moderate hearing loss would hurt their productivity on the job. Of those with untreated hearing loss:
- 67% say they often ask people to repeat what they said.
- 61% say they often misunderstand what is being said.
- 61% admit they sometimes pretend to hear when they cannot.
Despite the impact of untreated hearing loss on the job, less than one-fifth of all law enforcement personnel surveyed had had their hearing checked in the past two years.
“One explanation could be concern over stigma,” said Volkmer. According to EPIC’s research, 66 percent of law enforcement personnel say they would be concerned if their employer knew or suspected they had hearing loss, versus 44 percent of the general employee population.
Many people of all professions also simply do not understand the importance of getting prompt treatment for hearing loss. EPIC has released free education materials through its Listen Hear! public education initiative (epichearing.com/listenhear) to help raise awareness.
Source: EPIC Hearing Healthcare
[i] Promoting Hearing Health among Fire Fighters. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2013-142, May 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2013-142/pdfs/2013-142.pdf
[ii] NIOSH . Health Hazard Evaluation report: Memphis Fire Department—Memphis, Tennessee. By Tubbs RL. NIOSH HETA No. 86−138−2017, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/reports/pdfs/1986-0138-2017.pdf
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