When working in a hazardous plant or work environment, you often hear that you need to be aware of your surroundings or to be risk-averse. But what does this mean and how does one accomplish situational awareness? According to OSHA, situational awareness is “knowing what is going on all around you by having the ability to identify, process, comprehend, and respond to critical elements of information regarding the environment in which you are located.” Let’s break that down.

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Have you ever wondered what the loudest work environment is? According to a 2018 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting industries are among the most hazardous for high noise and hearing loss, with the Forestry and Logging industry as the most pervasive. Workers exposed to high noise in the Forestry and Logging industry have “a higher percentage of hearing loss (21%) than all other noise-exposed industries combined (19%)” (CDC, 2018).

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When working in hazardous or high-noise-level conditions, it is important to have the right hearing protection. In many cases, this indicates wearing a headset or earmuff hearing protection device (HPD) with active noise-canceling technology. This analog technology functions by detecting the sound coming into the headset generates signals that are out-of-phase with the offending signals and then cancels them out. This allows any sounds generated within the headset to be understood more clearly (music, radio communications, etc.). Unfortunately, these active noise-canceling headsets have attributes that are problematic.

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Hearing conservation programs are typically designed to protect workers with normal hearing, but they must also consider those workers that have already been impacted by hearing loss or impairment. Many workers in high-noise environments have already experienced varying degrees of hearing loss and may have special needs. What can be done to keep them protected, but still allow them to continue with their daily activities? These workers face numerous challenges, even in quiet environments, including difficulty communicating with colleagues and problems differentiating important sounds or alarms from other background noises. Some workers may even face differing levels of tinnitus or ringing in the ears.

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The promise of noise cancelling headphones can seem like a magic bullet when it comes to protecting the hearing of employees that work around loud noises. That is, however, until you start to think about the health and safety risks that come with looking after a workforce unable to hear you or each other.

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Industrial noise suppression headsets are different from standard noise reduction muffs as well as active noise cancelling headphones, the latter of which are often used on public transportation or within offices when you want to cancel out background noise and listen to music.

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Can workers protect their hearing and stay alert to workplace hazards? Yes, they can, with the proper hearing protection equipment, safety training and situational-awareness.

Pilots, soldiers, and police officers know how important situational awareness is to their survival on the job. But from a general health and safety perspective, it has a more universal application One Occupational Safety online piece describes it this way:

"(S)ituational awareness means being aware of the surrounding conditions in your immediate work area and recognizing and dealing with unsafe work conditions before they become an issue…"

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The past ten years have presented some drastic changes within the 2-way industry. The advancement of digital radio portfolios such as Motorola’s MotoTRBO, Kenwood’s NexEdge, and other DMR vendors have given additional value to radio users in commercial and industrial organizations. These integrated solutions and applications for voice and data while increasing capacity and providing digital clarity.

In addition to these benefits, the past months have shown an increased movement towards safety compliance and awareness within 2-way radio vendors and accessory partners like Sensear.

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