Setting Up a Successful Hearing Conservation Program: Christine Diestler’s Experience

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Meet Christine Diestler. Chris is a certified occupational nurse specialist employed by ThedaCare at Work. She helps employees onsite at a large manufacturer which is headquartered in Wisconsin. The manufacturer produces tools and solutions for manufacturing, fabrication, construction, aviation, motorsports, education, agriculture and marine applications.

Chris is passionate about trying to help protect every employee’s hearing not just from the noise they are exposed to at work, but outside of the job as well. But how did Chris channel this passion to help others by going above and beyond in developing her hearing conservation program? We had a chance to interview her recently, so let’s find out.

How Did You Start Your First Hearing Conservation Program?

I’m certified to perform hearing tests and conducted 100% of these annual checks at my previous job with a large mill. While at the mill, I wanted to expand my efforts and find ways to help people protect their hearing. One day a safety manager showed me older style E-A-Rfit system that was never utilized. I wanted to know more about it.

How Did You Find Out About the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ Dual-Ear Validation System?

When I contacted 3M about the system, their representatives offered to come out and demonstrate the 3M E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System, which was newer and allowed testing of both ears at the same time. I could immediately see the benefit it would produce at the mill.

Once I received the 3M E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System, it made such a substantial difference in helping me test people and validating that their hearing protection products were appropriate. It also helped redefine what styles of ear plugs people could use for their jobs at the mill.

What Happened When You Started Your Current Position with a Large Manufacturer and How Did You Start Your Hearing Protection Program There?

During my interview to become the on-site ThedaCare at Work occupational nurse at my current location, I made a point to let them know about what I had done at my last job at the mill when it came to helping protect employees’ hearing. The manufacturer in my new role is a larger company compared to my previous job at the mill. There are well over 1000 workers across nine plants.

I first wanted to demonstrate the benefits of the 3M E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System, so I invited representatives from 3M to give a demonstration. I was able to achieve 100% support from the company’s health and safety leadership because they listened and believed in my passion about the importance of hearing protection. My nurse supervisor even commented she had never seen anything like this system. She thought it would be a great way to educate employees and validate that they are using the correct kind of hearing protection.

3M agreed and provided me with one of these systems for me to use.

Can You Tell Me More About What is Involved in Hearing Conservation Program that You Currently Run?

I’m not just concerned about people who work on the production floors—I try and educate every employee from administrative staff to sales leaders and management.

During orientation for every new employee, I devote 10 minutes to talking about hearing conservation. I touch on what activities and hobbies they are doing at home and what they are exposed to at work that might be putting them at risk for hearing loss. I always ask who has been asked to wear hearing protection in prior jobs. If they have worn earplugs previously, I ask if they have been shown how to correctly put them in.

I then pass out soft foam earplugs and utilize an ear model. I demonstrate to the employees how to put them in correctly and how to see and know if they fit correctly. I want them to have some information about hearing conservation prior to starting work in the plant.

More importantly, I let the new employees know that at some point they will be scheduled to meet with me one-on-one where I use the 3M E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System and hearing protection fit testing. I also perform individual audiograms onsite. I print out the results and we review them together.

During this one-on-one appointment, I also try to spend 15-20 minutes with each individual employee asking them about their job, as well as their hobbies and possible noise exposures outside of work. Do they spend a lot of time hunting, gaming, mowing the lawn or other activities that might be causing a harmful effect over time that they may not be realizing? I try to answer any questions they may have about noise exposure. My goal is to give them hearing protection education and validation they can use at work and with noise exposure outside of work as well.

Next, I educate people who do choose to wear hearing protection to make sure it is fitted properly. Using the E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System has made such a difference when helping people validate that their chosen earplug or ear muff provides the expected protection and fit. As part of my program I also:

  • Make changes to my hearing safety program based on cumulative results.
  • Keep track of which employees are wearing what kinds of hearing protection.
  • Ensure that the top three or four product types people use are kept in stock and in different sizes, which keeps our work force very happy.
  • Keep careful records to help me determine if I need more stock or sizes in any of the hearing protection we carry and if I need to change what products I order.

We are all fans of the quality products as well as the training 3M provides; the ongoing support has been a valuable part to the success of my program.

Additionally, we have a third party bring a van to conduct annual hearing tests. I recently worked with the safety managers to switch the annual testing time to April instead of November. November is when a lot of people are on vacation or sick and I want to be able to test the maximum number of people available when they have a good chance of being at their healthiest. I also inspect people’s ears and if they are filled with wax, I have them clean with drops and then come back to make sure they are in the best position for the hearing test.

I’m all about making sure everyone who works at my facilities are aware of hearing hazards and what protection is available to help them. I want them to know that if they feel they are in a loud environment, it’s probably a sign that they need to wear hearing protection and not just because someone is telling them to wear it. People should feel empowered to make good choices, and I’m glad I can be a resource available to help them make this beneficial choice.

Can You Give Us an Example of the Direct Effect Your Hearing Conservation Program Has Had on the Employees?

I had a 20-year-old employee that I used this system on. He explained to me [that outside of work] he runs a chainsaw in an enclosed building and in the woods during a Halloween haunted house that he works at every year. He was NOT wearing any hearing protection and he is working in noise exposures here at work that require hearing protection.

After using the 3M E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System and educating him with my Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC) information that is part of my hearing conservation program, he was surprised how much hearing loss he has sustained in the past couple of years. He was pleased that we were able to validate that the hearing protection chosen for him could deliver the results he needed.

He also came to me on two occasions looking for some inner ear protection to wear to help protect himself and was able to purchase some with birthday money he had gotten from his family. I was so impressed with him because what 20-something year old does that with cash for their personal use, right?! I helped him pick the right kind of ear bud and size and helped fit them properly for him.

He said it worked “awesome” this past Halloween while running the chainsaw inside and outside of the building. He stated he is “so grateful for our conversation” and that I “changed his life” because of this. He is my poster child for hearing conservation and states he is spreading the word to the other people who work with him at the haunted house and in his community.

What Other Impact Have You Seen from Implementing Your Program?

I find this work very rewarding because I can help prevent long-term issues in workers and help prevent them having to file claims after they retire resulting from work after they retire. They can also enjoy their lives so much more if their hearing is intact. Because of the work I currently do as an on-site nurse at these plants, I decided to pursue my certification in Occupational Health, which I recently completed.

I strongly encourage my nurse colleagues to educate themselves about hearing conservation programs and reach out to 3M for help when it comes to implementing these kinds of safety platforms. I have shared this information with the healthcare nursing team within the ThedaCare At Work organization. 3M also went a step beyond and helped with a demonstration and information on the 3M E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System for the nurses across ThedaCare at Work.

Also, as a result of all my efforts around my hearing conservation program, I was nominated for The Medique Leadership Award by my supervisor. She believed I was a game changer for bringing this issue to the forefront and making it a priority. The selection committee agreed and awarded me this high honor at the end of 2017 for all my work with hearing conservation.

The world needs more people like Chris Diestler and her commitment to hearing conservation for workers. For tools and resources to help you achieve your hearing conservation program goals, visit the 3M Center for Hearing Conservation.