Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge Winners: Part 2 of 3Posted on by
Every year 22 million workers are at risk of losing their hearing from workplace noise hazards. Work-related hearing loss is a widespread problem, but it is a problem that can be solved. On August 1, 2016, NIOSH, OSHA, and MSHA issued a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs with the dual goals of inspiring creative ideas and raising business awareness of the market for workplace safety innovation. More than 30 entries were submitted and the top ten were invited to present their ideas at the Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge event on October 27, 2016. A panel of judges consisting of business experts, investors, and innovation specialists listened to pitches, asked questions, and selected three winners based on the assumed effectiveness of the solution combined with its commercial viability. This blog entry is the second in a three-part series summarizing the solutions presented by the Challenge winners and finalists. References to products or services do not constitute an endorsement by NIOSH or the U.S. government.
Finalists: Manesha Kachroo and Bibek Das
Manesha Kachroo is the founder and CEO and Bibek Das is the president and CTO for a Houston-based company that provides safety support to other businesses. Both are engineers who love to solve problems. In their work, Ms. Kachroo and Mr. Das saw a big problem that needed to be solved: risk of hearing loss from exposure to job-related noise. They recognized that despite decades of traditional regulatory and administrative interventions, hearing loss is still a pervasive issue. In the manufacturing sector, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hearing loss is the most commonly recorded occupational illness (17,700 cases out of 59,100 cases), accounting for 1 in 9 recordable illnesses. In considering the problem, Ms. Kachroo noted that there “isn’t any holistic solution for this on a single platform that is user-friendly and that caters to the needs of the individual customer.” Ms. Kachroo and Mr. Das were inspired to begin thinking creatively about how workers and managers could proactively manage exposure to and protection against industrial noise. They sketched out ways they could combine their deep experience in the safety and continuous improvement universe with technology to protect workers’ hearing.
Together they started on an integrated software platform that they dubbed iPING and recruited their colleague Dilip Amin to assist with business management. Ms. Kachroo and Mr. Das are building iPING to be a user-friendly, web-based, real-time solution that incorporates sensor technology, and predictive analysis into an Internet of Things framework. They intend the ultimate product to be a complete solution to a company’s hearing conservation program. At the Hear and Now event, Ms. Kachroo described how iPING will collect data and translate it into meaningful information so that it is available “at the right time, in the right place, for the right person.” She defined how the iPING platform will enable communication from machine to machine, person to person, and machine to person. In one example of iPING’s utility in workplace hearing loss protection, the technology will predict the remaining useful life of hearing protective devices: a worker will be able to replace his earmuffs before the earmuffs degrade and stop protecting his ears.
iPING is currently in the concept and design phase. Ms. Kachroo, Mr. Das, and Mr. Amin plan to prototype and test the product soon in preparation for manufacturing and a broad market launch. They are currently exploring growth opportunities and partnerships to commercialize iPING.
More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website: www.ipingsolution.com
Finalists: Josef Shargorodsky, Wolfgang Haupt, and Greg Ainsworth
In 2012 Josef Shargorodsky was in Cambridge, Massachusetts having completed his master’s degree in public health at Harvard. It was there he met Harvard medical student Wolfgang Haupt and Greg Ainsworth, who had recently served as a policy advisor in the Australian Department of the Prime Minister. The three shared an interest in health care, entrepreneurism, and technology. They learned from a colleague about the challenge of administering routine hearing tests on soldiers. The audiometric equipment couldn’t be transported, and no portable equipment was precise enough, so hundreds of soldiers had to travel to a medical center for testing before they could go on leave. Dr. Shargorodsky, Dr. Haupt, and Mr. Ainsworth wondered if a common device like an iPad could be used to perform audiological exams. They joined with audiologist Brian Fligor and software developer Hugh Lang to experiment with a calibration process for turning an iPad into an accurate audiometric tool. They formed a company, Agilis Health, and continued testing their concept.
In the midst of their work, tragedy struck. On April 15, 2013, an explosion rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Approximately 12 seconds later, a second bomb detonated 50 to 100 yards from the first. The blasts killed three people and seriously injured more than 100. People injured in the attacks flooded into Boston’s medical centers in need of care, including audiometric testing. The need for mobile audiology galvanized the Boston-based team. They honed their app’s consistency and accuracy and found that it performed favorably versus conventional audiometers in tests performed by the Director of Clinical Research, Otolaryngology, and Communication Enhancement at Boston Children’s Hospital.
The marathon bombs showed the team the need for equipment that could increase surge capacity in health care facilities. They also considered the needs of small companies that would not have the equipment or expertise to monitor hearing health, companies that would not perform hearing tests for their employees unless the cost was low.
At the Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge, Dr. Shargorodsky and Dr. Haupt shared the Agilis Health Hearing app. At its core, the technology is an audiometric app that can be calibrated for use with what they described as “any good quality mobile device.” They supplemented the core technology with data management services, alerts, and compliance reporting options. They are in the process of developing an ambient sound monitor to provide a more comprehensive hearing tool.
More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website: www.agilishealth.com.
Finalist: John Johnson
Industrial and environmental management is more than a profession to John Johnson; it has been his passion and lifelong adventure for over four decades. So he was delighted when his son Shawn Johnson took up this interest, and together they created and operated an industrial and environmental management company for over 10 years. While working on a related project, John Johnson suffered a serious ear infection as a result of a contaminated foam earplug. The pain and discomfort he experienced made him not want to use foam ear plugs ever again. Shawn, inspired by his father’s ordeal and passion, sought to develop a remedy that would help his father – and others –to use foam earplugs in a hygienic manner. After some research and several design renditions, the prototyped remedy would be called Sert-A-Plug.
It became a father and son dream project with John Johnson working alongside his two sons, Shawn and Joshua, to have their product patented and available on the hearing protection market. Together they founded the J3 Group LLC of Portland, Oregon. They teamed up with another father-son duo Gary Anderson, former President of the Port Engineers Association, and his son, Mark Anderson, an industrial safety manager, as well as Tony O’Dierno, a financial adviser and CPA. As a Native-American owned and operated company, they have also benefited greatly from support from the Business Department of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.
At the Hear and Now Challenge Event, Mr. Johnson represented his team as a proud father and business partner. He demonstrated the Sert-A-Plug applicator, describing it as a “complement and companion to disposable earplugs,” as it is designed to improve upon the most common form of hearing protection, foam earplugs. The Sert-A-Plug applicator enables users to place the tip of the earplug at the opening of the ear canal for each ear and for every fit without ever having to “roll and hold” the earplug with their fingers. Mr. Johnson claimed that the Sert-A-Plug both reduces the risk of contamination from manual insertion and ensures reliable and consistent protection from foam earplugs. He said this “simplistic and inexpensive” product is recyclable and fits most of the earplugs on the market today.
Sert-A-Plug is currently patented in the U.S. Mr. Johnson and his team are exploring licensing and partnership agreements, as well as additional opportunities to support and grow their product.
More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website: www.sertaplug.com.
Watch next week for the final installment in this series.
Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA, is a technical advisor in NIOSH’s Research to Practice Office and an assistant coordinator for NIOSH’s Small Business Assistance Program.
Amanda Terminello, MPH, is a Public Health Advisor in NIOSH’s Research to Practice Office.