It wasn't quite Murder on the Orient Express. One afternoon we received a call to investigate apparent hearing losses that had suddenly developed at two newspaper plants. It seems that there was a sudden rash of severe hearing loss in the newspaper delivery drivers.
This created concern among the lawyers processing the compensation claims for the employer. Were the noise levels to which the drivers exposed so high as to cause permanent, compensable loss of hearing? The NCAC member firm was asked to investigate and to determine employee exposures. The details of the legal complaint, which reads like a detective novel, can be found at United States District Court for the Southern District of New York [93 Civ. 7222 (LAP)]
The primary purpose of an Effective Hearing Conservation Program is to protect employee's hearing. Of course, the first phase of an effective hearing conservation program is to document the workplace acoustical environment. But, their workers didn't spend time in the places where high noise exposure was expected. They would arrive at work, transact some business in an office, wait near conveyors where newspapers were bundled and loaded on their trucks, and then drive throughout the metropolitan area delivering bundles of papers. An exposure survey for these employees had never been carried out since it was thought that their exposures were under 85 dB TWA.
There are other purposes for a hearing conservation program. Ostergaard Acoustical Associates has maintained that the data developed in a properly conducted hearing conservation program has at least two benefits to the employer: first, it is crucial to the protection of employee hearing and the early identification of potentially problematic noise exposures. Second, audiometry conducted by knowledgeable technicians under the supervision of a professional experienced in the evaluation of the industrial patient may serve to support the defense of claims for Occupationally Caused noise-induced hearing loss.