Protecting the Hearing of Federal Wildland Fire Fighters


Hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. NIOSH estimates that 22 million U.S. workers encounter noise exposures loud enough to be hazardous.

Wildland fire fighting is considered a high-risk emergency response occupation requiring considerable physical and psychological demands. Wildland firefighters often work 12 to more than 16 hours per shift for up to 14 consecutive days over a 3- to 9-month period [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2008].

In an effort to address noise exposures within this population, the United States Forest Service, Technology and Development Program, in partnership with NIOSH, conducted a 3-year study to assess wildland fire fighters’ noise exposures during training and fire suppression tasks and to identify which jobs put these fire fighters at increased risk for NIHL. A recently

A recently published paper by USDA and NIOSH researchers on wildland fire fighters [Broyles et al., 2016] in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America reports on the initial results from the study, characterizes the most hazardous noise sources and job tasks based on personal dosimetry measurements, and provides specific and practical recommendations for protecting the hearing health of these fire fighters.

On the basis of these study results, wildland fire fighters may be considered at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. To prevent fire fighters from developing a hearing impairment, NIOSH recommends that all wildland fire fighters be enrolled in a hearing conservation program and that fire agencies establish and maintain fire service specific hearing loss prevention programs.

In addition, the authors recommend additional studies to examine targeted approaches to mitigate risk among fire fighters with highest exposures.

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