The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide hearing protection for workers exposed to hazardous noise and best practice has shown that providing a variety of hearing protectors improves compliance.

But smart employers will also encourage employees to take hearing protectors home, says one company.

"Noise hazards are not exclusive to the workplace, but compensation claims for noise-induced hearing loss often are," says Theresa Y. Schulz, PhD, hearing conservation manager for Howard Leight, San Diego. "Lawn mowers, chain saws, home workshop tools, even personal listening devices (eg, mp3 players), and cranked-up stereo
systems can all add to hearing damage, but it’s usually the employer who ends up paying the price."

Encouraging workers to wear hearing protection off the job as well as on makes sense for other reasons as
well, Schulz says. It is often difficult to convince employees of the risk. "Talking about noise hazards present in everyday activities brings the hearing conservation message ‘home’ in a very meaningful way," she says.

It is also important that the "take ’em home" message be overt and not just tacit, Schulz says. "Employees should not be made to feel that they are pilfering, or that management is simply looking the
other way," she says. She recommends posting signs by disposable earplug dispensers recommending employees ‘Pocket a Pair for Home,’ and making particular mention of the policy in training sessions and group meetings.

What types of earplugs are best to offer? Schulz says that while single-use foam earplugs, such as Howard
Leight’s Max or Laser Lite models cost less per pair, multiple-use earplugs, such as their AirSoft or
Clarity brands, which can be washed and reused many times, may be more economical, especially
in an off-the-job setting where use is less frequent. Multiple-use earplugs can also be easier to insert.