Wildland firefighters are exposed to numerous noise sources that may be hazardous to their hearing. This study examined the noise exposure profiles for 264 wildland firefighters across 15 job categories. All 264 firefighters completed questionnaires to assess their use of hearing protection devices, enrollment in hearing conservation programs, and their overall perception of their noise exposure. Roughly 54% of firefighters’ noise exposures exceeded the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure limit of 85 decibels, A-weighted, over 8 hr, and 32% exceeded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure limit of 90 decibels, A-weighted, over 8 hr. Questionnaire results indicated good agreement between noise exposures and firefighters’ perceptions of the noise hazard. Approximately 65% reported that they used some form of hearing protection; however, only 19% reported receiving any proper training regarding the use of hearing protection devices, with the majority of those firefighters relying on earplugs, including electronic and level-dependent earplugs, over earmuffs or other forms of hearing protectors. The results also suggest that improved communication and situational awareness play a greater role in the consistent use of hearing protection devices than other factors such as risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss. The study highlighted the challenges facing wildland firefighters and their management and the need for a comprehensive wildland fire agencies’ hearing conservation program especially for firefighters who were exempt based on their occupational designations.
conservation programs among wildland firefighters. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, online October 2019. DOI: 10.1080/15459624.2019.1668001