Hearing Protection Devices: Regulation, Current Trends, and Emerging Technologies
Hearing protection devices (HPDs), used to guard the human ear against incurring hearing loss due to noise, have been in existence at least since the early 1900s even though their use in United States (U.S.) workplaces was not regulated by law until 1971. In fact, in 1911, the famous band leader John Phillip Sousa complained to his friend and fellow skeet trapshooter J. A. R. Elliott that shooting traps “took a toll on his ears and was beginning to affect his livelihood [as a musician].” Elliott, being an inventor, then developed and patented (in eight countries, no less), the “Elliott Perfect Ear Protector,” and it became a commercial success (Baldwin 2004). After using the “Elliott Protector,” which was among the first commercially available hearing protectors, Sousa wrote in a letter to Elliott on January 20, 1913: “I consider your invention to lessen the shock of loud noises or overwhelming vibrations of sound of great comfort. The Elliott Perfect Ear Protector is a great success in affording protection from concussions to a sensitive ear. As a shock absorber it is invaluable” (Baldwin 2004). Unfortunately, U.S. industrial workers did not experience common use of effective hearing protection technology until many years later, even though simple cotton plugs were known to be used in some workplaces before the turn of the nineteenth century (e.g., Barr 1896). (Even today, some individuals incorrectly assume that cotton suffices as a hearing protector.) The lack of protection in early mechanized industries, coupled with high noise exposures, resulted in hearing loss and related problems, such as tinnitus, that manifested in workers and that, very tragically, were often viewed as an accepted consequence of the occupation. As such, the terms “blacksmith’s deafness” and “boilermaker’s ear” were coined (Fosboke 1831; Holt 1882; Berger 2003a).
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