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Initiatives to address noise exposures and hearing loss.

Progressive quieting (to control ship noise, both for tactical reasons and for control of occupational exposures) has been applied to the Navy fleet over many years, often at great expense. Expertise in "signature" detection and control, developed in the submarine and parts of the surface community, has created resources that can be applied throughout many fleet areas. Technologies developed for civilian applications can and should be adapted for use in military settings. (See the Naval Safety Center a discussion of the technologies relevant to shipboard noise control.)

The Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine and others throughout DoD have worked for years to convey the military importance of noise control. The combat arms earplug, which can be used alternatively to control steady-state or impulse noise, was one result of such R&D efforts.

Development of improved equipment, such as communications earplugs (a miniature microphone encapsulated by a compressible earplug, which can be inserted into the ear), improves communication and provides for double protection when combined with circum-aural ear muffs. This overcomes the need to increase comms-system levels greatly to communicate. These earplugs soon may be approved for certain Navy applications, (e.g., usage in combination with standard aviation helmets).

Another technological advance is active noise cancellation, which involves use of rapid-response electronic devices, coupled with in-ear microphones that insert "negative" (opposite) sound pressures to cancel incident sound sources. This technology sounds like science fiction, but it is usable in some applications and will be a feature for advanced hearing protection to be deployed for aviation-support personnel to use during aircraft-carrier operations.

The joint strike fighter program is collaborating with NavAir (PMS 202) to develop and deploy advanced hearing protection for aviation-support personnel (see "When Pigs Fly: A New Cranial Coming in 2010" later in this focus section).


The NavAir propulsion directorate has been exploring technology to reduce jet-engine noise. The current focus is on retrofitting existing jet engines with exhaust-nozzle fins, which have the potential to reduce noise levels by 50 percent. NASA, FAA and civilian academics and industry have collaborated in this and other projects. Long-term research will be needed to integrate noise-control technology into future designs.

The recently updated Navy System Safety Policy (OpNavInst 5100.24B) has guidelines for noise control in new systems and equipment. Noise-control technology has the potential to increase stealth (make hostile detection more difficult), reduce environmental impacts and costs, improve communications critical to warfighting effectiveness, and protect the long-term health and morale of military and civilian personnel.

By Mark Geiger, M.S., CIH, CSP, OpNav Safety Liaison Office
COPYRIGHT 2008 U.S. Naval Safety Center
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Title Annotation:FOCUS
Author:Geiger, Mark
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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