The following are excerpts taken from an article titled: “Noise Reduction Within Your Practice: Meeting HIPAA Rules for Patient Privacy and Enhancing Healthcare Outcomes"
Written by Helen M. Torok, MD; Heather L. Funk, MBA; Aaron M. Funk, in the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthitic Surgury’s journal called, Cosmetic Dermatology, issue August 2011, Vol. 24 No. 8
The full article can be read, downloaded and saved in PDF form at: http://www.cosderm.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=HckRo/HUFhE=
Although much of HIPAA covers the safeguarding of electronic data and other patient records, one specific component addresses oral communication within the healthcare setting. Just after HIPAA privacy enforcement went into effect in 2003, Sykes and Miller(3) reported in Health Lawyers Weekly that a leading complaint from patients regarding direct care providers was concern about overheard conversations within the practice as a source of compromised privacy.
This finding came as a surprise to the reporters and others in the medical community, as the concern previously had not been recognized as a sore point. Since then, the medical profession has acknowledged the importance of this issue and has been working to develop ways to insure the privacy of conversations between patients and their health-care providers.
In many hospitals across the country, HUSH (Help Us Support Healing) campaigns have been initiated to improve patient care and overall satisfaction by implementing various noise-reduction measures.
Also contributing to excessive noise in today’s healthcare settings are the hard surfaces necessary to ensure cleanliness, as well as the advanced heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that filter and deliver clean air to occupants. A recent Chicago Tribune article discussed studies that show the negative effects of noise on patient health in a medical setting, from stress and sleep deprivation to hypertension and tachycardia. The article also mentioned that current decibel levels in healthcare settings exceed the standards set by the World Health Organization.
Backup From Standards Organizations
The idea of a quieter work environment is not a new one, and there are a variety of technologies in place to deal with the problem as well as objective standards for proving that a medical practice or healthcare provider has done its best to comply with HIPAA.
Organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization, the American National Standards Institute, and ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) have provided ideas for noise reduction, and their support has been instrumental in winning medical privacy cases. These standards are applicable to a variety of industries and professions, including the fields of defense, finance, medical research, and law, and also are observed by the US General Services Administration, which manages federal building operations. It is possible to measure the noise levels of oral communication in the workplace according to government standards; best practices have been set and new tech-nologies have been developed to meet these standards. As of 2003, final modifications to the HIPAA Privacy Rule mandate that reasonable safeguards must be implemented to ensure speech privacy, and the HHS has clear expectations about what these safeguards entail.
According to HIPAA, the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange is named as the designated guide on technical matters for HHS and the Office for Civil Rights.(2) Today, healthcare centers and physician offices also are being designed with advice from entities such as the Healthcare Acoustics Research Team to assure compliance.
Products to Ensure Oral Privcy
A series of acoustical privacy products have undergone several levels of development and are installed in some 100 million square feet of new office space each year in healthcare, financial, and other office settings.(8) The utilization of panels and tiles are specific demonstrations, according to HIPAA, that indicate a healthcare facility or practice has made a bona fide effort to meet oral privacy needs.
Certain building materials can actually block sound waves from traveling through walls. To measure their effectiveness, these materials are assigned a Sound Transmission Class rating. Walls and windows, for instance, can be designed with this purpose in mind, but these noise-reduction products often are more expensive than traditional ones.
Another way to achieve sound diminution within your practice is to use surface materials that can absorb or deflect ambient sound waves, thus preventing reverberations from traveling around the room. This property is measured according to the Noise Reduction Coefficient, which rates how well a material absorbs sound.
Another measurement of noise-reduction technology is the Speech Intelligibility Index, which is calculated from acoustical measurements of speech and noise. Panels and other products can be designed to absorb certain frequencies of sound, meaning that although sound does get through, it is unintelligible and carries no meaning, which often has been called the “Charlie Brown effect” in reference to the popular Peanuts cartoons in which adult voices come across as unintelligible musical notes. Maintaining a low Speech Intelligibility Index is a proven way to achieve HIPAA compliance and can be easily achieved through various technologies in a medical practice.
Although active speech privacy systems such as white noise machines are popular, they do pose a few drawbacks; they mask meaningful conversation with perhaps even less-welcome noise rather than diminish sound levels altogether. Thus medical practitioners and patients may actually have to speak louder, increasing the likelihood that their conversations will be overheard, which is especially true in healthcare settings for older patients who already have compromised hearing and may rely on the use of hearing aids.
Adding noise to noise is adding pollution to pollution; in this sense, noise is the pollutant. It is similar to using a scented room refresher to mask noisome odors; it only adds to the overall smelliness of the room, and it can be harmful. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that exposure to continuous white noise sabotages the development of the auditory region of the brain, which may ultimately impair hearing and language acquisition, at least in young rats.(10) Unlike passive devices such as sound-dampening panels, white noise machines require electricity and are not guaranteed reliability all the time.
Other Requirements for Sound Mitigation Products in Healthcare
Aside from the acoustic technology and speech privacy capabilities, other factors must be considered when selecting a sound-dampening product in a medical setting, including the product’s flammability rating and its ability to withstand the growth of germs, mold, and mildew. Some traditional sound panels, for instance, are wood framed with cotton inside. Obviously these materials are highly flammable and it is always essential to check a product’s fire rating. It is better to look for a product that is not as combustible; one particular panel on the market has a steel slag and basalt rock interior and is covered with a cloth that does not promote the growth of mold or mildew, meeting both flammability and antibiotic/antifungal standards. Uneven surfaces inside the panel cause the sound to get lost through deflection.
Today’s healthcare settings should put patients at ease while adding eye appeal. Look for sound-dampening panels and other products that offer a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors to customize the look and style to fit your specific needs. Panels can even be made into “sound clouds” for use on the ceiling. Some products on the market actually can be covered with messages you might wish to impart to patients, including advice about healthful living or introductions to new staff members.
It is imperative to make sure your dermatology practice or medical facility is compliant with HIPAA sound pri¬vacy mandates. Your staff also will benefit from working in a setting in which communication is made easier and less stressful.
All from Trillium Creek Dermatology and Aesthetic Center, Medina, Ohio. Dr. Torok also is from Northwestern Ohio University College of Medicine, Rootstown. The authors report no conflicts of interest in relation to this article.
Article References (and Additional Resources)
1. Standards for privacy of individually identifiable health informa¬tion; final rule. Fed Regist. 2002;67(157):53181-53273. To be codified at 45 CFR §160 and 164. http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/privacyrule/privruletxt.txt. Published August 14, 2002. Accessed June 23, 2011.
2. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 42 USC §201 (2003).
3. Sykes DM, Miller SA. HIPAA privacy enforcement begins. Health Lawyers Weekly. October 2003.
4. H.U.S.H. campaign for a healing environment. Penobscot Valley Hospital Web site. http://www.pvhme.org/pvh.nsf/View/Hush. Published March 1, 2010. Accessed June 27, 2011.
5. Nightingale F. Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not. New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company; 1860.
6. Deardorff J. Hospitals drowning in noise. Chicago Tribune. April 24, 2011. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-04-24/health/ct-met-hospital-noise-20110424_1_hospitals-neonatal-intensive-care-unit-noise. Accessed June 15, 2011.
7. Strategic National Implementation Process. Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange Web site. http://www.wedi.org/snip.Accessed July 8, 2011.
8. Sykes DM, Miller SA. Oral Communications: Myths and Facts [white paper]. Reston, VA: Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange; January 2004.
9. Health information privacy. US Department of Health and Human Services Web site. http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/safeguards/197.html. Updated March 14, 2006. Accessed July 18, 2011.
10. White noise delays auditory organization in brain [news release]. ScienceDaily; April 18, 2003. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/04/030418081607.htm. Accessed July 15, 2011. n
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About Dr. Helen M. Torok, MD
Trillium Creek Dermatology and Aesthetic Center, Medina, Ohio
Oral privacy breeches are embarrassing for patients and could be costly for healthcare providers in severe situations. Unfortunately, soundproofing is one of the last things that medical practices think about when it comes to office design. Is it cost? Is it that acoustics, soundproofing and noise issues have not been a priority in the past? Typically, healthcare providers are more concerned about the protection of electronically stored information than about protecting information transmitted orally. Soundproofing can be the missing element in most facilities towards creating total privacy that patients expect and deserve.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA, was enacted by the United States Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers. Per the requirements of Title II, the HHS promulgated five rules regarding Administrative Simplification: the Privacy Rule, the Transactions and Code Sets Rule, the Security Rule, the Unique Identifiers Rule, and the Enforcement Rule.
The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (“Privacy Rule”) established, for the first time, a set of national standards for the protection of certain health information. The regulation increased consumer control over the use and disclosure of their medical information. It also established appropriate safeguards that must be followed to protect the privacy of patients' health information.
The Privacy Rule regulates the use and disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI) held by "covered entities." These entities are generally health care clearinghouses, employer sponsored health plans, health insurers, and medical service providers that engage in certain transactions.
Everyone now has a right to oral privacy with concern to his or her PHI. The Office of Civil Rights accepts complaints for alleged violations of the HIPAA privacy rule by covered entities. A fact sheet is available at the OCR website at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacyhowtofile.htm. Violations are expensive. Penalties for non-compliance can cost providers up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
While oral privacy is only one part of the exhaustive HIPAA regulation, it is also one of the more subjective areas in terms of interpretation. The Privacy Rule requires physicians to use appropriate administrative, technical, and security safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information — including oral communications. But what safeguarding measures are and aren’t enough?
While the Privacy Rule does “not” require structural changes be made to facilities, it does require that that they make reasonable efforts to prevent prohibited uses and disclosures not permitted by the Rule. The Department does not consider facility restructuring to be a requirement under this standard. The Privacy Rule does not require the following types of structural or systems changes:
• Private rooms
• Soundproofing of rooms
• Encryption of wireless or other emergency medical radio communications which can be intercepted by scanners
• Encryption of telephone systems.
In the absence of stringent guidelines for safeguarding PHI, the HHS Department has indicated that it will look at what other “prudent” professionals are doing to protect oral privacy when determining whether a covered entity has taken adequate measures to avoid having conversations overheard
In a democracy, the objective of laws is to serve the best interests of the people and reflect their highest aspirations. Contained within the “letter of the law” is the purpose or intent, which is termed the "spirit of the law." For any given law, the spirit of the law is the hope for change, or benefit, that the law will produce, as predicted by the designers of the law. In other words, laws are tools that are intended to be useful and beneficial. Since the spirit of the law is the reason for its existence, many believe the letter of the law is subordinate to the problem-solving intent of the law and covered entities should go above and beyond to meet the spirit of the law. When it comes to HIPAA oral privacy, installing soundproofing to ensure patients get total privacy meets the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. It enables covered entities to meet the intent of the law. It's just the right thing to do for patients and could also keep a practice our of legal complexities and help prevent fines.
Evaluating Your Medical Facility’s Oral Privacy Issues
Your own ear is the best testing and measurement instrument available. If you can overhear any conversations that are meant to be private in any area you will need to provide reasonable safeguards to protect against incidental disclosure.
You don't need to be a sound engineer to evaluate if you have a problem with oral privacy in your facility. A simple audit and walk-through of any facility will indicate whether there is a problem or not. If you’re unsure whether noise is a problem in your practice, it’s easy to evaluate – simply spend a few moments in your exam rooms, your waiting room/reception area and your staff break room and focus on what you’re hearing including where the noise is originating and the intensity/volume of the noise. You may also want to consultant an acoustic specialist – a professional who assesses environments for noise and provides guidance to soundproof your space.
In regard to industry-accepted measurements for oral privacy, industry standards for speech (oral) privacy, three recognized standards are used for the measurement of the intelligibility of sound (conversations):
• ISO (International Standards Organization)
• ASTM (American National Standards Institute)
• ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials)
These standards and principles are used by sound engineers to measure and evaluate relative sound levels. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has existed for decades. ASTM has been providing quantifiable practices, tools, and measurements to assess speech privacy levels. For years, speech privacy professionals have used ASTM standards to establish acceptable and unacceptable levels of normal and confidential speech privacy for business and health care facilities alike.
ASTM measures speech privacy by using an articulation index (AI). AI represents how all elements in and properties of a space affect the ability to understand speech. AI is expressed as a decimal value between 0 (speech is unintelligible) and 1.00 (speech is completely intelligible). An AI of .20 or less will result in a space that provides normal to confidential speech privacy.
It is important to understand that a conversation is considered private if it is an unintelligible conversation (one that cannot be discernible) to a nonparticipant. This type of conversation will not jeopardize the oral privacy rights of an individual.
In many doctor’s offices across the country, conversations can be heard through the walls of patient rooms. Sound travels not only in a straight path from its source but also bounces off partitions, bends around barriers, and squeezes through small openings, all of which can allow noise to reach surprisingly far beyond its point of origin.
Sound radiates spherically. Even if the sound source is facing one direction, the sound it produces will travel in all directions. Sound will move from one room to another through direct and indirect paths. It is important to understand that while sound can travel through air pockets like ductwork, stud and ceiling joist cavities, it can also be conducted along studs, joists, pipes, concrete and glass. Sound vibration uses a rigid surface to travel.
When sound strikes any surface, some sound energy is reflected, some absorbed, and some transmitted into the adjacent space. The sound that we hear in typical rooms is made up of two parts: Direct sound, the sound that arrives at our ears directly from the sound source; reflected sound, the sound that has reflected from a room boundary surface.
Sound is measured in decibels in intervals of 10. A typical conversation occurs at approximately 60-70 decibels. Sound transmission through a wall or floor depends primarily on the mass of the construction. The following are some sound transmission losses of typical building elements:
Soundproofing isn't a cure-all to saving healthcare facilities from penalties resulting from oral privacy breeches, but it may be one of the most beneficial places to start. Soundproofing will not control when and where patient information is discussed. It will however, significantly mitigate the sound through absorption, damping, or blocking. Given that many healthcare facilities are in older, uninsulated buildings, adding soundproofing will go a long way toward ensuring better patient privacy.
Soundproofing can be achieved in a variety of ways, and there are solutions for every budget. The challenge is when and how to soundproof. It’s always easier to soundproof an office when starting from a blank slate rather than retrofitting an existing space. So if you’re moving into a new space you’ll want to make sure you’re working with your design firm to come up with a layout that prevents sound from traveling and materials that mitigate noise. It’s also possible to install certain types of soundproofing materials in an existing building.
Depending on the purpose of a building or room, primary acoustical requirements could include sound control between spaces, sound control within a space, or listening efficiency in meeting rooms and auditoriums. Just as technical challenges can vary widely from space to space, so, too, do the choices of materials and design details that can meet them. Thoroughly exploring these options requires time and effort.
So what types of modern acoustical soundproofing materials are available to help keep conversations within a room or area in a medical facility? Here are just some:
• Acoustic ceiling panels or ceiling tiles.
• Sound absorbing wall cover - simple do-it-yourself noise deadening solution
• Acoustical sound barriers that deflect or absorb sound.
• Acoustic insulation (like QuietFiber) placed in between wall joints behind drywall
• Viscoelastic sound absorbing polymer materials (like Acoustiblok) behind drywall
• Acoustic cloud systems – sound panels that are placed overhead in an area.
• Sound masking - the addition of natural or artificial sound (such as white noise or pink noise) into an environment to cover up unwanted sound by using auditory masking.
• Acoustical sound sealants
In the Spirit of the Law
Think about how many patient-related conversations which occur every day in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, or other health care providing organizations over the course of a day, week, month and over a full year. The number of possible oral privacy violations could be high. Unless healthcare providers implement a reasonable solution that creates a safeguard for these conversations, healthcare providers are at the mercy of every patient who chooses to complain.
Unless the HIPAA law is amended, using soundproofing materials isn’t required in the letter of the law, but it falls well within the spirit of the law. While it's great that confidential information is safely locked away in their computer system, if you can hear patients and staff talking about their medical conditions and concerns in the next room, how confidential can patient information really be?
Although HIPAA creates a right to privacy, it doesn't create the right for private persons to sue if they feel their privacy has been compromised, creating little incentive for healthcare providers to soundproof their buildings. However, patients do file complaints, which could lead to fines and a requirement that the provider correct their procedures to prevent future privacy issues. For some health care providers, this is starting to become incentive enough for healthcare providers to consider soundproof their buildings and rooms.
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Adding soundproofing materials to walls, ceilings and/or flooring of your home theater or entertainment room will give your family and neighbors a better quality of life void of stress and anxiety caused by loud noise from movies, video games and television shows. Sound from home theater audio system speakers can exceed 100 decibels and higher. Without adequate soundproofing materials to absorb and mitigate it, the noise will travel through your wall, ceiling and floor joints and into the rest of the home.
Commercial cinemas give you a great acoustical experience that makes you feel like you are part of the movie. Commercial cinema-like sound is a key ingredient to any home theater or home entertainment room. It helps create a more memorable and pleasurable entertainment experience while watching high-speed car chases, fiery high-decibel explosions, and sweat-soaked vixens with machine guns.
Soundproofing In Your Home Provides a Higher Quality of Life
Sound travels in low-frequency waves. These waves radiate from the source of the sound in all directions. If the waves are met with resistance, they will redirect and dissipate. Because sound travels through walls, ceilings, floors and other surfaces as well as air, you will hear sound in virtually any environment.
Soundproofing is a difficult process. The only way to stop sound is to either reduce it or absorb it. Noise reduction works by blocking the passage of sound waves through either the use of distance or the placing or intervening objects in the sound path. On the other hand, noise absorption operates by transforming the sound wave itself. The wave changes when it comes into contact with certain materials.
For your home theater, you need to be aware of the amount of sound leaking from the room. Even though your home theater is smaller than a commercial movie theater, it should provide a good acoustical experience. Outside noises coming into the theater room need to be minimized and noise generated by your sound system needs to be kept inside your home theater walls so it does not disturb others inside and outside your walls.
If you are considering building a new home theater or home entertainment room, you may want to make sure soundproofing materials, like Acoustiblok, are in your construction tool box. Here’s why.
• Not only add essential mass to walls, ceilings or floors, but they also enhance the flexibility and stiffness while changing the natural resonance of the structure
• Drastically reduce sound transmission through your walls, ceilings and floors
• Keep high decibel noise in the theater room
• Allow people in your home to enjoy the home theater room or entertainment room any time of the day or night without disturbing others.
Various other building materials are available to help keep noise from escaping your home theater room and provide better quality acoustics such as sound panels, sound drapes, acoustic insulation, foam, carpeting or acoustic sound-deadening drywall.
Theater Room Acoustics and Intelligibility
Go to any movie theater and you will notice acoustic treatment covering a large percentage of the walls. Chairs are soft and well padded. The whole room has been carefully crafted to work as a single system.
In commercial movie theaters, acoustics plays a critical role in making sure that everyone can clearly hear the movie dialogue, no matter where they are seated. By eliminating near-wall reflections, those seated at the perimeter of the theater are not fighting to detect the sound from the speakers versus the sound reflecting off the walls. The padded seats are carefully designed to not only be comfortable, but also help control bass when not in use.
When a theater is properly treated acoustically, it improves our ability to comprehend what is being said and what noises are being heard. This is known as ‘intelligibility.’ The speech intelligibility in a room depends on the reverberation time and the background noise. If a room has a long reverberation time, spoken words will not die out before the next words reach the listener. This results in poor speech intelligibility. It will be difficult for the listener to understand what is said. However, if the sound is absorbed by acoustical soundproofing materials, it results in a short reverberation time. This provides a good acoustic environment and a high level of speech intelligibility.
Standard drywall construction has what acousticians call a sound transmission class (STC) rating of 40 decibels; the higher the number, the better the material is at blocking sound. When you crank up your audio system to experience Johnny playing Guitar Hero at concert volumes, it’s easy to hit a very loud peak sound-pressure level of 110 decibels. A sound transmission class (STC) of 40 means a person on the other side of the wall will definitely hear Johnny jamming, and if you were to measure the volume with a sound meter, it would register about 70 decibels, which is loud enough to be bothersome.
Psychological Impacts of Noise on Our Family and Neighbors
One of the biggest culprits of home noise originates from home theaters that have poor acoustical features. According to Psychology Today website, noise is a stimulus, and when we have little control over the source, we often experience more stress and anxiety. Your anxiety may have several causes. First, you may have a “control” reaction, in which you are keenly aware of not being able to stop or alter a sound. Second, you may experience sound more sensitively than the average person. For those who notice sounds and get absorbed by it, the intrusion can become an interruption and a distraction from a productive task, including relaxation and sleep.
If you are a highly sensitive person in general, noise can be a powerful trigger to getting upset. Controlling our environment is a task humans are very good at, but in a modern world where noises are a part of the landscape, our control is limited. You can help control noise from your home theater or home entertainment room by using proper soundproofing materials.
For NASCAR drivers, crew members, staff and fans, the noise and reverberation that are Nascar's trademark may also be contributing to the most serious health issues fed by extended exposure to the painfully loud roar of four dozen revving engines, blasting around the half-mile oval racetrack at Bristol Motor Speedway. And these are just practice runs.
For many fans, the noise is is huge part of the excitement of Nascar. To the fans, who must shout to communicate, noise delivers the energy that keeps bringing them back for more.
The noise also makes it more hazardous not only for everyone else who spends time at a racetrack during a Nascar event. That is the finding from two studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, which reports that sound levels at tracks reach dangerously high decibel levels.
The first study by NIOSH, the government agency that conducts research on health and safety issues, was published by The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in August 2005. It focused on tests conducted at Bristol Motor Speedway.
A co-author of the studies, Dr. Luann E. Van Campen, said NIOSH viewed Bristol as a worst-case scenario for noise because of the bowl-like stadium track surrounded by stands that rise 21 stories. Chemical and noise exposures were measured at Bristol and at an undisclosed race team shop. The study found chemical exposure to be low but noise exposure high.
“Employees involved in stock car racing are routinely exposed to extreme levels of noise, and auditory damage will ensue eventually,” according to the report’s conclusion. “More immediate concerns include the occupational risks posed by possible noise-induced fatigue, stress and miscommunication.”
Chucri A. Kardous, a NIOSH engineer and a co-author of the studies, said the noise level of 43 cars during a race was equivalent to a jet engine, which is 140 decibels.
“It’s higher than what we call here at NIOSH an allowable limit,” he said.
The second study, a follow-up that includes other tracks, was not available as it was being prepared for publication. But some of the results were presented last fall at a gathering of the Acoustical Society of America.
As in the first study, peak sound levels exceeded 140 decibels during races. To put that in perspective, noise becomes painful at 125 deciels; even short term exposure to decibel levels at 140 can cause permanent hearing damage. This is the loudest recommended exposure to noise with hearing protection. NIOSH typically recommends having protection when levels exceed 85. An abstract of the second study also noted how quickly the noise reached that level: “in less than a minute for one driver during practice, within 2 minutes for pit crew and infield staff, and 7 to 10 minutes for spectators during the race.”
That exposure could last for three or four hours, the duration of a race.
Kardous said he could not find any other studies of noise at racetracks. The Nascar spokesman Jim Hunter said officials had not focused on the matter since the 1970s, when noise became an issue primarily among people living near racetracks.
But the NIOSH findings are hardly a shock to those who spend time at the track. The seven-time champion Richard Petty has blamed racing for his hearing loss and now wears a hearing aid.
After 32 years of racing everything from go-karts to stock cars, including 14 seasons in Nascar’s premier Cup series, the driver Jeff Burton is a victim, too.
“My hearing’s not great, but there’s a reason for that,” he said as teams arrived for the Sharpie 500 race Saturday night. “When I was younger, I didn’t worry a whole lot about it. But I do now. Maybe too late.”
Many drivers use custom-molded plastic earplugs during races; Burton wears foam plugs. He said he did not know the Noise Reduction Rating for his ear protection. The rating indicates the number of decibels a protection device can block.
Crew members and other Nascar staff members typically wear communication headsets during races. Nascar requires its employees to wear protection. The headsets protect the ears but lose some of their effectiveness when the volume is turned up to allow communication among staff and crew. Fans who use similar headsets to listen in on scanners of driver-crew conversations face the same loss of protection, Kardous said.
There have been no studies conducted to determine the proper Noise Reduction Rating for drivers, crew members and fans at Nascar events. One of several recommendations from the first report included further studies on proper protection levels for earplugs and headsets. Those recommendations have not been followed.
Thais Morata of NIOSH, another co-author of the studies, said it would be up to Nascar, drivers or teams to approach the institute about further research. No studies are planned.
There may be another option. Nascar could use mufflers to reduce the noise during races.
“That’s the primary source of the noise, so obviously, that would be the top recommendation if we could make it,” Kardous said.
But Hunter said that Nascar tried mufflers in the 1960s and that they did not have a significant effect on decibel levels. Besides, it would be a hard sell for fans, who prefer to attend practices and races without any hearing protection.
Excerpted from an article by Viv Bernstein, published 2007, New York Times.