Hearing protection, a responsibility for students, faculty, staff

Revised (First Published in The Bison student newspaper)

On most days in OBU Theatre’s shop space, half hidden away behind Sarkeys Black Box, two things can be expected: the noise of saws and drills, and the accompanying bright bits of green, yellow or pink ear plugs that can barely be seen sticking out from students’ ears.

For these students, wearing ear plugs represent a necessary aspect of their education, as they practice hearing safety procedures that they will need future theatre or entertainment careers.

This protection is needed due to the loud volumes of sound produced by shop equipment such as table saw and routers.

“Scene shops are loud places, at any given time there can be multiple power tools or mechanical devices creating elevated decibels,” assistant professor of technical theatre, design, Jake Yenish said. “In addition to these noises people are attempting to speak to one another often over distances.”

Although some hearing loss is natural and inevitable over any person’s lifetime due to natural aging process, the high levels of sound produced in shop environments, according to NOISHA, can cause a 25-year-old carpenter who does not use hearing protection to already have lost the same amount of hearing as an average 50-year-old male.

So, it is very important for OBU Theatre students to follow hearing safety guidelines during their time in the theatre shop.

“The simplest precaution students can take to protect their hearing is by acquiring and using simple ear plugs or other ear protection,” Yenish said. “Toward this end OBU Theatre provides all of its majors and minors with their own ear protection and makes sure to stock ample spares so that no one has an excuse not to use ear protection.”

Proper use of hearing protection allows theatre students to enjoy their time in shop without potential concern.

While the Theatre Shop is perhaps an obvious place to wear hearing protection, the basics of hearing safety are just as important for all college students and faculty to understand.

With summer coming up in a few months, it’s easy to daydream about all the best summer activities, whether that’s serving as a church camp counselor, trips to the beach, watching fourth of July firework shows or attending all the best music festivals.

Summer concerts and events are great, but if you’ve ever been to them you’ve probably noticed they tend to have something in common – they’re all loud.

According to the CDC, any exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels for an extended period of time can cause long-term hearing damage, even if you’re unaware of it at the time.

And most popular summer music events are far louder than that.

Rock concerts, for instance, can easily average somewhere around 100-120 decibels – a full 25-35 decibels above safety levels, according to resources available on the Eastern Kentucky University music program website.

Yet it is not only electronically amplified music forms that can pose risks.

For example, according to Mayo Clinic’s webpage on hearing loss, a symphony orchestra – despite not typically thought of as producing loud music – can reach volumes of 110 decibels.

Although exposure to loud volumes for short periods such as at a concert is not as dangerous as exposure for long periods, it is still dangerous, according to the CDC.

Waiting until it’s loud enough to hurt to use protection is far too late, since according the Eastern Kentucky University’s music department’s online resources, that volume is around 125 decibels – 40 decibels above the safe limit of 85 decibels.

Music students, theatre students, and anyone who enjoys live music events simply need to use hearing protection, when at events or doing activities with volumes at or above 85 decibels.

“[…] I encourage all students at the beginning of the semester to wear earplugs during [Bison Jazz Orchestra and 519 Collective] rehearsals or wear hearing protection,” assistant professor in instrumental music Justin Pierce said. “And they have increased their adoption of that since I’ve been at OBU.”

Luckily working out how to apply hearing safety guidelines is relatively simple.

1.) Determine if the sound volume is high enough to require protection.

The most precise way of determining if a volume is safe is to measure it with a sound meter. Sound meters phone apps can also be used, although these are less exact and can be difficult for the average student to calibrate.

However, most students should be able to get fairly good idea if a sound level is safe by using the talking test.

“If the noise level in an environment is louder than a reasonable conversation between [two] individuals alone in a room, I would encourage students to find and use ear protection,” Yenish said.

2). Find the right form of protection

Hearing protection comes in many forms, from ear plugs available in large quantities at Walmart, to earmuffs rated to reduce noise levels, to the in-ear monitors used by professional musicians.

Determining the right kind of hearing protection, comes down to comfort. Some people prefer in ear devices like earplugs. Other people find them uncomfortable and prefer over ear devices such as muffs.

The only true requirements of hearing protection devices are that they are safe for use in the ears, clean, and offer enough sound reduction to keep the volume beneath 85 decibels.

This can be determined by reading the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) listed on the hearing protection device’s packaging.

However, the CDC’s online resources state that these NRR are usually overestimated – sometimes claiming as much as four times the actual protection level.

Because of these labeling disparities it is advisable to check the CDC’s guidelines before purchasing and to select a hearing protection form with a NRR significantly larger than you will need.

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