law enforcement hearing loss

An officer with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office in Gainesville, Florida has written a white paper delving into the subject of firearms training and noise-induced hearing loss for LEOs. Its contents are fascinating, to say the least.

Here’s how this white paper came about. The author, Officer Ryan Lee Scott, spent years as a law enforcement firearms instructor — all while wearing standard passive earmuffs — and began to question if he had enough hearing protection.

Scott writes:

After a few years of teaching at the local police academy and interacting with countless law enforcement officers and firearms instructors, many of whom had significantly more years of firearms experience than I had, I noticed almost all of them had significant hearing loss and were wearing hearing aids. After some discussions of what noises they had been exposing themselves to, and what hearing protection devices they were using, it became apparent to me that there was a deficiency in the amount of protection they were successfully achieving.

As a result, Scott began conducting audiology research with The University of Florida’s Audiology Department, specifically in the areas of firearms sound pressure levels, suppressor testing, and NIHL (noise-induced hearing loss). He’s now sharing his findings and recommendations in this white paper.

Scott on the importance of size and fit:

In many cases, earplugs may not be properly fit to the end-user, and with that improper fit – frequently up to 80% of the noise attenuation is lost! Data from real-world settings show many users of earplugs and earmuffs achieve only a fraction of the protection the product is capable of providing.

It’s not just about buying a set of earmuffs and earplugs and saying “I’ve given my employees all the protection they need – assignment complete!” There is a significant education component for the end users to teach them how to properly wear these hearing protection devices. There are users with higher exposure profiles who may need some custom made protection devices which have greater noise attenuation, fit, and comfort for their longer exposure times.

Scott on suppressors:

Suppressors reduced sound levels across the platforms we tested, and while I believe that suppressors should be utilized whenever possible, I strongly advocate that they should immediately be used on AR15s / rifle systems as the sound pressures they generate result in dangerously high sound pressure levels. Because these sound levels are so high, it is absolutely imperative that additional earplug / earmuff combinations be used in addition to suppressor devices in order to provide adequate protection and minimize auditory damage. No single hearing protection system offers enough protection!

Scott on advertising:

Be careful of manufactures advertisements & older technology used in studies and the applicability of their data.

What happens when the corporate advertising is not evidence based? Possibly poor terminology, or worse, possibly misleading data and conclusions. But the average consumer of this product likely doesn’t have enough of an audiology or hearing science background to understand the technical issues. I can’t overstate this issue enough! Most agencies will make horrible purchasing decisions based on misleading claims which may not adequately protect the end user. The most likely cause – if they just use the product advertising and don’t understand what is really possible and scientifically supported.

Scott’s recommendations for law enforcement agencies:

Every law enforcement agency should conscientiously determine the best hearing protection products and create a comprehensive hearing conservation plan for their officers!

They should each continue to receive feedback, work on new solutions for the more difficult to protect users and address the challenges of their unique environments.

They should revaluate these products and programs yearly – as research and technology will change.

Read the entire white paper here

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