Hear and Now Noise Safety Challenge Winners: Part 3 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 third 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.
Finalist: James Craner
James Craner, MD, MPH is an occupational medicine physician based in Reno, Nevada and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine. His 20 plus years of clinical and consultative experience have provided him with unique insight into the challenges faced by companies of all sizes in hazardous, highly regulated workplaces such as gold and silver mining, assay laboratories, and chemical manufacturing.
Dr. Craner recognized a key paradox companies face in effectively fulfilling health and safety regulatory requirements: Companies comply with health and safety regulations by performing required tasks and collecting necessary documentation, but they often don’t have the resources, time, expertise, or tools to continuously measure how effective their compliance programs are in terms of preventing injury or disease. A multitude of compliance data is collected through various compliance software applications or manual methods, but this data isn’t necessarily being used to implement and measure prevention—nor do regulatory agencies inspect or analyze it without the company reporting a problem, workers’ complaint, or an OSHA inspection. According to Craner, companies collect the required employee audiograms and report standard threshold shifts, but often they don’t effectively use this data to prevent noise-induced hearing loss or measure the effectiveness of their hearing conservation programs.
The need for technology that solves these gaps in achieving effective health and safety compliance was Dr. Craner’s impetus to create Verdi Technology, Inc. and team up with software architect Ted Short and statistician Neil Willits, PhD, along with industrial hygienists and audiologists. Their solution is webOSCAR, a subscription-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) information platform that automates and streamlines the process of managing health and safety compliance. webOSCAR is used by companies to manage scheduling, data collection, tracking, analysis, reporting, distribution, and documentation for activities such as employees’ medical exams, lab tests, respirator fit tests, and audiograms.
At the Hear and Now Challenge, Dr. Craner represented his team and introduced webOSCAR’s patent-pending dBw method for automated audiometric data analysis. The dBw is designed to automatically identify early audiometric changes in individuals and groups of workers before irreversible hearing loss occurs and to measure and report the actual effectiveness of hearing conservation programs.
Dr. Craner and his colleagues are currently exploring opportunities to partner with additional organizations and to integrate into other business applications such as human capital management, asset/maintenance management, and enterprise resource planning software.
More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website: www.webOSCAR.com.
Finalists: Joe O’Brien and Ted Smith
Joe O’Brien and Ted Smith firmly believe that compliance with safety regulations saves lives and prevents injuries and illnesses. Mr. O’Brien has a passion for protecting workers and has more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur in the personal protective equipment (PPE) industry pursuing his passion. Hearing loss was one of the workplace issues that bothered Mr. O’Brien the most. Each year for every 1,000 noise-exposed U.S. workers, 2.5 healthy years were lost because of hearing impairment, according to a NIOSH study. While the numbers were enough to motivate Mr. O’Brien, he was most troubled by the human toll. He explored many compliance-related solutions that integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) with PPE, but he felt there was still a gap. He wanted to offer a more innovative solution, so he reached out to Ted Smith. Mr. Smith is a 20-year veteran of the software industry and is himself an experienced entrepreneur. Together they developed Corvex Connected Safety, a system for integrating smart sensors into PPE, documenting compliance, and enabling communication among managers, safety directors, and workers.
Mr. Smith represented the duo at the Noise Safety Challenge event in Washington, DC. He described how their system provides real-time safety information, compliance help, and training to workers, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) managers, and everyone in between. From ensuring that workers are wearing proper PPE in a specific area to measuring sound levels on a site to verify that adequate hearing protection is worn—the system utilizes IoT technology to drive a culture of safety, he said.
Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Smith are driven by the stories of real people to continually look for ways to leverage technology to further safety. They are currently in the process of developing Corvex Connected Safety, in conjunction with PPE manufacturing partners and a number of beta site customers. They hope to market their product in late 2017.
More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website: http://www.corvexsafety.com/
Finalist: Les Blomberg
Les Blomberg is an advocate for peace and quiet. He founded the national nonprofit organization Noise Pollution Clearinghouse in 1996 to raise awareness and serve as a resource for information and issues related to noise pollution. In this field, he is bothered that people usually learn that they have been exposed to noise that is too loud only after their hearing has been damaged. By then it is too late to take corrective action. Mr. Blomberg wanted to provide a way for people to be aware of their noise pollution exposure at the time in real time, so they could prevent damage from occurring. He teamed up with Chris Hancock, the principal of TERTL Consulting to devise a solution to address this problem. Mr. Hancock has over 20 years of experience in software development, which he has dedicated to the hearing loss prevention efforts.
At the Hear and Now Challenge, Mr. Blomberg called for a paradigm shift. “In the past, if you wanted to know how loud something was, you measured the noise. What we are doing is measuring your response to the noise. It’s a very different paradigm.” He introduced the Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) Detector as an “elegant and simple” solution to enable people to learn whether or not they have damaged their hearing at the time of exposure. It works by measuring someone’s hearing threshold both before and after the exposure. The TTS Detector plays a series of 8 tones and compares the differences to determine whether or not the user has suffered a temporary loss of hearing. If they have experienced temporary threshold shifts in their hearing, they will hear fewer tones than they would typically hear. For example, if they hear 2 tones less at 5 dB apart that would translate to a 10+ dB shift in hearing loss.
Mr. Blomberg and Mr. Hancock are currently exploring additional funding and business support opportunities to further develop the patented TTS Detector and make it available as a mobile app.
More about this Hear and Now Challenge finalist, including contact information, is available at the following website: www.nonoise.org.
For more information about the Hear and Now winners, read the first and second installments 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.