Local 802 Launches Hearing Conservation Program

Free Hearing Tests Set for April 29 and June 3

Volume CII, No. 5May, 2002

On March 27, Local 802 launched a hearing conservation program aimed at addressing members’ concerns that years of exposure to sound may eventually cause hearing loss that can affect their job performance, and contribute to difficulties in social situations as well. The program is being administered by clinical audiologist Ellen Kelly, M.S., CCC-A.

Its first phase centers on making free hearing tests available to members, at the 802 headquarters building. This is possible because of the generosity of two companies – Acoustic Systems Inc. of Austin, Texas, a major supplier to the recording and broadcast industries, who loaned a state-of the-art testing booth, and Micro Audiometrics Corp., a manufacturer of occupational hearing testing equipment, who donated an audiometer. The testing facility is located in Room B, on the ground floor.

Kelly, who has over 20 years’ experience in audiology, hearing conservation and OSHA compliance issues, is an adjunct instructor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of Public Heath and has a private practice as well. She has been working with Local 802 and its members for nearly two years on the particular hearing problems faced by musicians.

She points out that the provisions of the OSHA regulations that apply to factory workers are not adequate to protect musicians’ hearing. First, it is difficult to get a “snapshot” of the music professional’s average exposure level that could, with certainty, qualify him or her for hearing conservation services and free hearing tests – services that employers are required to provide when a critical level is reached. Second, many music professionals work for so many different employers and in so many different settings, that is difficult to relate exposure to one particular employer or location. And finally, most musicians need to maintain confidentiality regarding their hearing test results and fear that an employer-run program would compromise this.

Given those realities, the union is working to develop a hearing conservation program that will meet all of the hearing needs of the music worker, and go beyond the traditional OSHA-mandated program. Concern about the dangers posed by long-term exposure to sound led Local 802 to add a free earplug benefit to its Health Benefits Plan coverage several years ago. Its new hearing conservation program is the first such program being provided by a musicians’ union in the United States.

The first phase involves automated audiometric testing that will allow members to monitor their hearing status, at no charge. Kelly points out that anyone who works in high levels of sound should have an annual hearing test, to monitor for subtle changes in hearing that would otherwise go unnoticed.

The screenings are available by appointment only, by contacting Local 802 at (212) 245-4802, ext. 101. Appointments will be made on a first come, first served basis each month. Kelly administered the first tests to 16 members on March 27. The next scheduled test dates are April 29 and June 3, from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Custom hearing protection will also be available at union headquarters.

Kelly told Allegro that the program’s long-range goals include:

  1. Developing ongoing public forums in which 802 members can learn about and discuss occupational hearing issues, including the provisions of the OSHA regulations and best practices recommended by the professional audiology community.
  2. Providing on-site consultation and fitting of hearing protection devices.
  3. Assuring that work environments are safe from the dangers of occupational noise exposure. Kelly believes the work setting should also provide a quality acoustic environment for monitoring that is commensurate with the job required. As such, the work environment should not interfere with worker performance or contribute to decreased performance when critical listening skills are required.
  4. Addressing the extra-auditory effects of overexposure, such as fatigue and tinnitus.
  5. Acting as a liaison with management to resolve questions regarding workplace exposures.
  6. Providing free written information on a variety of hearing issues.

If you have further questions on specific hearing concerns, please contact Bill Dennison at (212) 245-4802, ext. 102, or Ellen Kelly at, through, or by calling (908) 735-7123.