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Silent Situations Are Perilous to Safety and Survival
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 09/12/2016

Officer a
If you are a correctional officer or any law enforcement official or agent, you must find some interest in the fact that might apply to your own personal safety situation or conditions of danger, when it comes to your safety and hearing. Any kind of hearing loss is detrimental to your role as an officer trained and employed to be vigilant and alert.

Reminding you of the fact that hearing is one of your most essential tools or senses to survive, it cannot be ignored any longer if you are experiencing a partial loss or moderate loss of your auditory abilities. Correctional officers, encounter various noises that do and most often, will affect their ability to hear later in their lives.

I had a meeting with an audiologist today because I became concerned about my ability to hear what was going on around me. It wasn’t just the television volume that had been unwittingly turned up a little higher than normal but the lack of background noises that I had gotten used to in the past. For some reason, my own warnings systems kicked in and told me I had trouble hearing and listening to what was said to me and the fact that certain noises were no longer detected as before.

According to my audiologist, due to my background of being a medic in the Vietnam War, and the fact that I spent twenty-five years in corrections qualifying with weapons, distraction devices, chemical munitions and yes, even flash bang devices, it was highly probable that my ears had been abused and neglected, even when I wore issued head gear or ear plugs.

The fact that I was a firearms instructor for the emergency response team and the academy, for twelve years, added to the damage inflicted to the ears. This put me at a high risk as the audiologist said that, “approximately 12 million Americans have suffered noise-induced hearing loss and another 30 million are exposed to dangerous levels every day.”

The kind of work I described to him caused him to further express the fact that on a daily basis, the exposure to gunfire, explosive devices, radio chatter and just the environmental pollution around me, caused my ears to deteriorate rapidly and severely. Active duty or retired, hearing is a necessary tool for survival.

For those ahead of the hearing loss curve, it is wisely suggested the importance of maintaining proper ear protection at all times whenever possible to prevent permanent hearing loss. It was explained in my case that my ability to understand speech, especially consonants and various phonetic tones, were impaired.

It's critical that officers are hearing well because they have to be able to understand speech, localize where sounds are coming from and be able to respond appropriately to both speech as well as environmental sounds within the workplace setting. Thus this article is written to alert you of the importance to begin taking better care of your ears because the use of ear protection does make a difference as gunfire, explosive devices etc. exposures are detrimental to the condition of your inner ear and accumulative damage is done over a period of time when one day, like me, you notice that things around are not the same any longer. The type ear protection used depends on the situation. There are the traditional spongy earplugs that are placed in the ear, ear muffs, and custom ear protection issued by your agency.

The use of ear protection is not an option, even covering your ears with your hands or moving away from loud sound can be helpful but really, the price you pay is much more severe than the effort to use the proper ear protection at the time you are exposed to loud noises or in many cases, gunfire or distractionary devices. Hearing loss can be addressed by an increase of awareness, a better educational perspective and sound practices on the range or anywhere else loud noises are present. This includes machinery and other mechanical or loud devices.

Be cognizant of the warning signs, ringing in the ears, turning the radio up louder than before, proximity to speaker or voices that sound like they are mumbling are things you need to take notice of and address. Most of the time, the officer may notice that they are not aware or not experiencing and significant difficulty because hearing loss occurs gradually. Hence the silent situation creeps up on you.

Untreated hearing loss truly affects your ability to survive in various critical situations. It also affects relationships and communication interactions that are critical to your compliance issues at hand. When words begin to sound like other words, whereas they sound the same but mean different things, your ability to communicate become impaired. Unable to hear the soft sounds or high tone alerts impacts your warning senses of ‘fight or flight’ in your line of duty. For too many years, I just would not allow myself to admit that I had a hearing problem.

Don’t become impaired to the point where your employer re-assigns you or dismisses your as under many workplace safety conditions, the law allows employers from screening out hearing disabled persons when certain levels of hearing proficiency must be maintained or required for adequate job performance and/or safety reasons.

John Thompson said, “Direct experiments designed to measure the negative effects of high volume sounds are difficult to implement due to the fact that human subjects cannot be used for safety reasons. It is believed, however that exposure to high-intensity impulsive sounds (such as the gunshots and blasting sirens to which law enforcement officers are exposed) are even more damaging to hearing than continuous sounds.”

He added, “Studies show that law enforcement officers shooting on the range are exposed to noise levels in excess of 150 dB peak sound pressure levels. Exposure to impulsive sound can cause acute acoustical trauma, which can be followed by symptoms such as tinnitus and hearing impairment. Exposure to these sounds can also cause direct mechanical damage to the middle and inner ear.” (Sheriff — January February 2013).

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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