Meet Nick. Nick is a training mannequin who helps NIOSH teach young people and their families about preventing noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing loss can result from working around noise–even non-powered hand tools–without wearing proper hearing protection. It is not uncommon for a 25 year-old farmer or carpenter to have the hearing of a 50 year-old. In fact, 33% of all people who are exposed to hazardous noise at work will develop noise-induced hearing loss. You don’t have to work on a farm or at a factory to be at risk; common noise sources around your house – such as lawnmowers, power tools, and music systems – can be hazardous to your hearing. It is the sum of all of your exposures to sound throughout the day and evening that add together to damage hearing when that total becomes excessive. Even the young are at risk. In the general population, approximately 15% of those between ages 6 and 19 show signs of impaired hearing.[i] One study found that over 30% of high school boys who live or work on a farm have hearing loss[ii]. We need to protect this and the next generation of workers.
In addition to the obvious problems that hearing loss creates, such as no longer hearing the sounds you want to hear the way you want to hear them and difficulty communicating with others, hearing loss also creates safety and health risks. The inability to hear important warning sounds can increase the likelihood of injury or death, and excessive noise can leave you feeling tired or stressed. It can even increase your blood pressure. Although noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and there is no cure, it is 100% preventable!
This is where Nick comes in. Nick travels to conferences and meetings to help NIOSH educate students, teachers, workers and their families about how to protect their hearing. As of September, 2012, Nick has traveled 30,000 miles and appeared at 33 events in 10 states and British Columbia. Students at the University of Northern Colorado built Nick for NIOSH. He’s specially equipped with a sound level meter wired to a microphone inside of a silicon ear and can measure the sound levels of personal music players. This is a big draw for both young people and their parents and it opens the door for discussions about preventing noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace.
Nick is used in conjunction with two companion brochures on preventing noise-induced hearing loss. They’re your ears, Protect them: Hearing Loss Caused by Farm Noise is Preventable is designed to increase the awareness about the relationship between farm noise and the early onset of tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) and hearing loss among farmers. Have You Heard? Hearing Loss Caused by Farm Noise is Preventable: Young Farmers’ Guide for Selecting and Using Hearing Protection provides an overview of the variety of hearing protection available including when and how to use it. Although these brochures target young farmers and their families, the information is relevant to many occupations and is used widely outside of the agricultural community. Prevention highlights include:
- Reduce equipment noise
- Always wear hearing protection around loud noises
- Limit exposure to loud noise
- Have your hearing tested
Nick has over 65 “siblings” around the world. If you are involved in education related to hearing loss prevention, consider adding to the family to celebrate Protect Your Hearing Month this October. You can build a similar mannequin for around $100 plus the cost of a mannequin. You may even be able to get a local department store to donate a used mannequin. Directions are available from the Dangerous Decibels website. Dangerous Decibels is the organization that created and introduced us to Jolene, the original training mannequin.
With tools like Nick and his “family” we can help workers prevent hearing loss, not only during Protect Your Hearing Month, but for a lifetime.
Janet Ehlers, RN, MSN, COHC and Pamela S. Graydon, MS, COHC
Ms. Ehlers is and Occupational Health Nurse in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies.
Ms. Graydon is an Electronics Engineer working in hearing loss prevention in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.
For more information on preventing hearing loss in the workplace, visit the NIOSH Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention topic page. For information about preventing hearing loss outside of the workplace, check out the Noisy Planet Campaign at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
[i] Niskar AS, Kieszak SM, Holmes A, Esteban E, Rubin C, Brody DJ. Prevalence of hearing loss among children 6 to 19 years of age: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA. 1998 Apr 8;279(14):1071-5.
[ii] Broste SK, Hansen DA, Strand RL, Stueland DT. Hearing loss among high school farm students. Am J Public Health 1989;79:619-22.