Noise Exposure Safety

Category: 
Firefighter Health First-Aid
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Sep 2020

 

Working in noisy environments presents daily safety challenges to wildland firefighters. Noise exposure research clearly indicates that accidents and injuries increase in noisy work environments. Additionally…did you know that hearing loss is permanent…and preventable?

Those most at risk of excessive noise exposure include

  • Sawyers/swampers
  • Heavy equipment operators
  • Helitack/helibase/tanker base personnel 
  • Engine and pump operators
  • Masticator/chipper workers
  • Anyone working with weed whackers/leaf blowers/air compressors
  • Retardant mixing personnel

Noise exposure will cause

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Distraction
  • Miscommunication
  • Inability to hear warnings
  • Increased errors

Mitigation Techniques

  • When possible, stay as far away from the noise source as possible.
  • Limit the amount of time you are exposed to the noise.
  • Give your ears a break from the noise when possible; the quiet break will help conserve your hearing.
  • Always wear hearing protection making certain that:
    • Your hearing protection has a Noise Reduction Ratio (NRR) of at least 20 dBA (level of protection in decibels) which is listed on the package.
    • You know how to insert/use/maintain them.
    • Your ear plugs are clean. NOTE: dirty ear plugs are better than no ear plugs BUT grab some extras out of supply because they work better when changed often.
    • When not in use, keep your ear plugs preferably somewhere cleaner than your Nomex™ button hole.

Discussion Questions

  • How can exposure to excessive noise reduce the firefighter’s ability to maintain good situational awareness and fulfill the Standard Fire Orders, such as:
    • Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
    • Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood.
    • Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.
  • Are you wearing hearing protection when you work in ALL noisy environments?
  • What are some solutions for a flight helmet that lets noise in because the ear cup doesn’t fit correctly?
  • When working with chain saws, mowers, and weed whackers, etc. at home...how do you protect your hearing?

Action:

  1. Look at your ear plugs. If they’re dirty, get a new pair and a spare.
  2. Find out if your unit/forest/district/team has a hearing conservation program and join it.
  3. Consider turning down your music just a little bit, especially when you listen with earbuds.

 

Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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