Hit the Mark: Firearms training without damaging your hearing
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Today on World Hearing Day we would like to highlight the pioneering efforts of Florida’s Alachua County Deputy Sheriff, Ryan Lee Scott, who is the winner of the 2017 Safe-in-Sound Excellence in Hearing Loss Prevention Award™ .
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 1.2 million Federal, State, and local law enforcement officers work in the United States [DOJ 2011, 2012]. These officers are required to train regularly in the use of firearms, typically at indoor firing ranges, and are often exposed to impulsive sounds that exceed the occupational health limits of 140 decibels (dB), with sound levels often reaching 160-170 dB peak sound pressure levels [NIOSH 2014].
NIOSH has an active firing range program that includes various research efforts on the effects of impulse noise from firearms on hearing and several health hazard evaluations that examined exposures and provided recommendations to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
Many challenges remain to implement hearing loss prevention programs and best practices to reduce hazardous exposures in the law enforcement community. These include: fragmentation of resources and guidelines across agencies and police departments, lack of uniform national safety and health standards, and lack of proper training and educational programs on hearing loss and its effects on hearing health and performance.
The “Firearms Training and Hearing Loss” Program
Deputy Sheriff Scott recognized the potential risks that firearms qualification posed to his hearing health early in his career. Law enforcement firearms training takes place for eight hours four times a year for standard patrol officers, every month for the typical special teams or SWAT team member, and up to 20 times a month for the agency’s firearms instructors. In each eight hour session, an officer could accrue hundreds to thousands of rounds of exposure to firearms impulse noise. Typically officers are provided little to no education on hearing loss prevention or hearing protection devices.
Deputy Sheriff Scott sought guidance from faculty members at the University of Florida to learn about the high-level impulse sounds produced by firearms and interventions to minimize the risk. He realized that while the science was clear, there was almost no understanding of this information within the law enforcement community. The new knowledge motivated him to develop an educational workshop: “Firearms Training and Hearing Loss” tailored specifically to the law enforcement community. The program provides an overview of impulse noise generated from firearms and its effects on hearing, the need for proper selection and fitting of hearing protection devices. In addition, the program emphasizes how engineering controls, such as the use of suppressors and acoustical surface treatments, can help reduce overall exposures. Deputy Sheriff Scott also reached out to a variety of stakeholders, including public safety officers and supervisory administrative personnel responsible for acquisition and purchasing decisions to educate them on available products and technologies that can help protect their personnel such as earplugs, earmuffs, safety glasses, and radio integration into earmuffs for range commands from firearms instructors.
You can learn more about his contributions to reducing the effects of noise among law enforcement personnel on the Safe in Sound web site.
The Safe-in-Sound award was created by NIOSH in partnership with the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA). NIOSH would like to hear about your experiences working or training at indoor firing ranges. What prevention methods do you or your employer take? What has worked? What has not worked?
For information on noise please visit the NIOSH noise topic page and for other NIOSH activities related to the public safety sector please see the public safety sector program page.
Dr. Thais Morata is a research audiologist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.
Mr. Chucri A. Kardous is a research engineer in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.
Mr. Ryan Lee Scott is the Deputy Sheriff of Florida’s Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
- DOJ . Census of state and local law enforcement agencies, 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs [http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/csllea08.pdf].
- DOJ . Federal law enforcement officers, 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs [http://www. bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fleo08.pdf].
- NIOSH . Brueck SE, Kardous CA, Oza A, Murphy WJ . Health Hazard Evaluation Report: Measurement of Exposure to Impulsive Noise at Indoor and Outdoor Firing Ranges during Tactical Training Exercises. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. HETA 2013-0124-3208, pp. 1-25 (June 2014).