Tour Guide Pros Offer 14 Insider Tips for an Enticing Facility Tour

Key Points

• Guided tours of any kind function best when the tour provider offers a sound system that allows everyone to hear the narration clearly.
• Tour guides must be ultra familiar with their material and be willing to engage participants in an immersive way.
• Knowing the particulars of one’s audience is essential to a quality tour that’s geared for a particular demographic.

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How Tour Guide Systems Solve Noise-Level Challenges

Key Points

• Noise-level concerns are a major barrier to group communication in sound sensitive environments.

• Tour guide systems are designed to effectively foster communication in areas where there’s plenty of noise, and environments where quiet must be maintained.

• Adopting a tour guide system requires a brief transition period, but the results that follow are more than worth the effort.

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How to Compare Tour Guide Solutions

Key Points

• Tour Guide Systems enhance the communication between speakers and their listeners, but not every solution is the same.

• Ask providers good questions to narrow down the communication tools that will best meet your needs.

• Take note of environmental factors impacting your communication to select a tour guide system that performs most effectively in those areas.

• Ensure the providers you consider buying from are reputable and reliable.

• Make a final, informed, purchasing decision on a tour guide system that achieves your end goals.

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How Loud is Too Loud? Part Three: The Long-term Effects of Hearing Loss

Key Points

• Long term effects of hearing loss can include cognitive decline, increase risk of falls, depression/anxiety, and social isolation.
• Hearing loss, which is also common in older adults has been found to be associated with clinically significant cognitive decline as well as MCI. While the exact relationship is unclear, there are two main hypotheses: common cause, and cascade.
• A significant link has been found between untreated hearing loss and falls risk with hearing impaired individuals being 3x more likely to experience a fall than those without hearing loss.
• Those aged 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were found to be more likely to report anxiety, depression, and feelings of paranoia.

Of those aged 65 to 74, 25% experience significant hearing loss. This percentage increases to 50% in those over 75 (NIDCD). Any untreated hearing loss, whether it be due to aging or noise exposure has effects beyond simple hearing difficulty. Hearing loss has been significantly associated with poorer quality of life, social isolation, depression, and cognitive decline. While these outcomes do not necessarily effect everyone, and there are many other things involved in their development, those with hearing loss are more at risk.

Cognitive Decline

In adults aged 60 and older, 5 – 7% present with dementia. It is anticipated that globally this number will double every 20 years until 2050 (Dawes et al., 2015). Perhaps even more concerning, is the number of older individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI describes individuals whose cognitive function falls between that of normal aging processes and severe cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, memory loss is experienced to a greater degree than others in the same age range, but it does not fall within the clinical criteria for cognitive impairment. This is not only important for these individual’s quality of life, but often those with MCI will progress to dementia/Alzheimer’s disease more quickly than a healthy individual of the same age would (Peterson et al., 2001).

MCI and other forms of cognitive decline do not have an impact on the affected individual alone, but also their caregiver, family, and the healthcare system as a whole. These affects include emotion as well as financial (Dawes et al., 2015).

Hearing loss, which is also common in older adults has been found to be associated with clinically significant cognitive decline as well as MCI. While the exact relationship is unclear, there are two main hypotheses: common cause, and cascade.

The common cause hypothesis suggests that age-related changes in the nervous system cause both hearing loss and cognitive decline. Meaning that these two disorders share neurodegenerative mechanisms (Dawes et al., 2015).

The cascade hypothesis suggests that the deprivation that hearing loss causes within the auditory system impacts cognition either directly, or through the effects of depression and social isolation (Dawes et al., 2015). In other words, either reduced auditory input impacts cognition or reduced auditory input causes depression and social isolation which impacts cognition.

As mentioned in part two, increased the cognitive effect given to hearing and understanding may use up cognitive resources resulting in the appearance of cognitive decline. While this hypothesis is an unlikely cause, it is certainly a contributing factor in the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline (Dawes et al., 2015).

Depression/Social Isolation

Those aged 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were found to be more likely to report anxiety, depression, and feelings of paranoia. The reports of depression, specifically, were noted to occur two or more weeks in a year. Additionally, these individuals were less likely to participate in social activities which can lead to feelings of social isolation (American Academy of Audiology).

Social isolation has been found to be significantly associated with both poorer hearing and poorer cognition. Social isolation and poorer hearing are both significantly associated with higher frequency of depression. Frequency of depression and social isolation are significantly associated with poorer cognition (Dawes et al., 2015). In other words, these four factors work in a cycle with one another. For example, a person with hearing loss may begin to feel social isolated by their inability to communicate properly which can result in depression. Overtime, this isolation and depression may lead to cognitive decline.

Falls

Untreated hearing loss has also been associated with an increased risk of falls.

In person’s over 65, trauma is the 5th leading cause of death. In those 75 and older, falls account for 70% of accidental deaths. Hospital stays are longer for elderly patients after a fall than those admitted for other reasons. Additionally, those who do fall experience a greater decline in activities of daily living than those who do not have a history of falls (American Family Physician).

A significant link has been found between untreated hearing loss and falls risk with hearing impaired individuals being 3x more likely to experience a fall than those without hearing loss. This association may be a result of limited access to environmental cues needed for awareness. It may also involve cognitive load and attention. When individuals’ cognitive resources are hyper-focused on trying to hear sounds around them, resources are taken away from things like attention and postural control which can increase the risk of tripping or falling.

How Loud is Too Loud? Part Two: Hearing in Noise on The Job

Key Points

• Hearing in a noisy work environment is not only difficult for those with hearing loss, but for individuals with normal hearing as well.
• Background noise can cover up the meaning or clarity of speech – which is conveyed through consonant sounds like p, f, s, and th.
• The brain has two tasks when hearing in noise: separating speech from noise and filling in missed speech cues in words and phrases to create meaning. It uses things like memory and attention to help it along.
• We classify the difference between the level of speech and the level of noise as the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). We want the SNR of an environment to be as low as possible. Products like the ListenTALK GO! System and the Listen Everywhere system can help to reduce SNR.
• In terms of noise control to help with hearing conservation, there are several things an employer can do to help reduce noise without employing a noise control engineer. These actions are called “administrative controls” and include easy actions to decrease noise as well as ways to help employees avoid excessive noise.

Noise-induced hearing loss isn’t the only negative effect of a loud work environment. Having difficulty hearing in background noise isn’t just a problem for people with hearing loss – individuals with normal hearing may struggle as well. These difficulties can slow workflow, and depending on your work environment, may even pose a safety risk. As noted in part 1, even people with normal hearing thresholds may exhibit difficulty hearing in noise due to damage in the pathway from the inner ear to the brain. It’s estimated that understanding speech in noise effects 26 million adults with normal hearing thresholds (Beck, et al., 2018). In a noisy work environment, it’s likely that a large majority of employees will note difficulty in these situations.

The clarity, or meaning, of speech mainly comes from consonant sounds like p, f, s, and th. These sounds are quite low in volume and high in pitch. It’s these sounds that background noise tends to cover up making it difficult for people to follow a conversation or understand a co-worker in background noise. Add to this a hearing loss, and you have a recipe for disaster. Individuals with un-treated hearing loss often can’t hear these higher pitched sounds as is. When they’re covered up with background noise, understanding gets even more difficult.

When trying to speak in background noise, the brain has two difficult tasks: separating speech from noise and filling in missed speech cues in words and phrases to create meaning. This filling of the gaps can be done with sentence context, visual cues, body language, or the other speech sounds within a word. If we remember from part one, sound comes into the ear canal and is sent to the inner ear. Hair cells within the inner ear then take that sound and send it to the brain. The signal that is sent, however, isn’t just speech; it’s a jumble of sounds for the brain to parse out. It is then that the brain uses things like memory and attention to filter out speech from noise and fill in the gaps of speech masked by the noise. When we think about this in terms of an employee with normal hearing, we know their attention is often split between the task at hand and the individual with whom they are trying to speak. In an individual with hearing loss, the brain needs to work even harder to understand. Some simple and free ways to help individuals hear in noise is to ensure good lighting, closing the distance between speakers, and making sure to face whomever you are speaking to.

We classify the difference between the level of speech and the level of noise as the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). A 0 dB SNR would mean that speech (the signal) and noise are equal to one another. The higher the SNR, the better the listening environment. For example, average conversation is around 50 dB. If we have a background noise level of 85 dB, that is a -35 dB SNR – not a prime listening situation. If speech is amplified to 70 dB and the noise is dampened to 60 dB, a +10 dB SNR – a much better situation for speech understanding. Products like the ListenTALK GO! System and the Listen Everywhere system can help to reduce SNR. These products would bring a speakers voice directly to the employee’s ear reducing distance. By bringing speech directly to the ear, background noise is completely bypassed, making speech easy to understand.

Noise Conservation Measures

In terms of noise control to help with hearing conservation, there are several things an employer can do to help reduce noise without employing a noise control engineer. These actions are called “administrative controls” and include easy actions to decrease noise as well as ways to help employees avoid excessive noise.
The first thing one can do is to determine the greatest source of noise. Is there loud music or chatter, like in a sports bar? Is it loud machinery? At the source, one should make sure that all employees are using machinery and other devices properly and that all equipment is well maintained.

Noise can also be dampened in its path – as it moves through space from the source to the individual. One way to do so is to have sound-absorbing material around the source of noise. This can include carpeting, foam pads or spray, felt or cork. An example of a good use of these materials would be carpeting in an office with loud chatter or using foam pads around a noisy machine. Insulated walls or other structures can also be used to isolate noisy machines or equipment and protect multiple people at once.

Employees’ access to noisy environments should be limited to when they absolutely need to be exposed. This can be achieved in many ways such as isolating noisy machinery, placing signs or warnings to indicate levels of high noise, or even shifting work schedules to limit the amount of time each individual is in the noisy environment. Employers should also ensure that employees in loud environments have rest periods or time spent away from excessive noise. In our sports bar example, a well-dampened break room with carpeting and insulated walls can help give employees a break from the loud noise of the bar.

Employees may also use hearing protection devices that come in non-electronic and electronic versions. Beyond the cost-effectiveness of the nonelectronic types of devices, there are several other factors in choosing appropriate hearing protection devices. Some types of devices are outlined below:

While we want devices to be comfortable in the ear, the looser the fit the less effective the device will be. While softer ear plugs are more comfortable, harder plastic custom devices are better at attenuating loud sounds. Additionally, softer disposable devices need to be replaced far more frequently than harder plastic ones. In situations where employees need to engage in conversation while still being protected, active electronic devices may be more appropriate. Devices should also be convenient and available. For custom devices that aren’t disposable, a carrying case is useful to ensure that employees always have access to noise protection. Conveniently placed dispensers may be helpful to make sure disposable devices are always available.

Appropriate insertion is also an important factor. When beginning to use hearing protection devices at your workplace, a training on proper use and the importance of noise protection is helpful to ensure hearing conservation measures are optimal.

While hearing protection devices are a great idea, there are some things that limit their effectiveness. In terms of the disposable foam devices, some extremely loud sounds can pass through this foam. An airtight seal is also needed with all devices to keep sound from getting through any gaps in the fit. Overall, these devices aren’t perfect, but along with the workplace adjustments mentioned above, effective noise reduction and hearing conservation can be easily achieved in your place of work.

How Loud is Too Loud? Part One: How Loud Noise Effects the Ear and Hearing

Key Points

• Sound waves move through the outer and middle ear and are then sent to the inner ear. Within the inner ear are small hair cells which transmit sound information to the brain.
• Loud sounds sent through the system can cause these hair cells become damaged and can even die. This damage can occur all at once with an extremely loud sound, an acoustic trauma, or slowly over time.
• The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimate that 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels daily. Hazardous noise is defined as that which exceeds 85 dB if an individual is exposed for an 8-hour day.
• Noise-induced hearing loss quantifies the hair cell damage caused by loud noise exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss can present as a decrease in a person’s ability to hear sounds at different frequencies, or as a difficulty understanding in noise.
• Do you need to speak louder when talking to co-workers? If your employees complain about sounds being too loud, have difficulty understanding one another, or complain of diminished hearing at the end of the day, it might be time to invest in some noise conservation measures.

In order for us to hear, sound must travel through the complex system that is our ear. As described in the figure above, when sound enters the ear through our ear canal it moves to our ear drum. The ear drum, or tympanic membrane, is vibrated which sending sound waves through three tiny bones in our middle ear called ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes). These ossicles then send the sound wave through the inner ear, the organ of hearing. Within the inner ear, or cochlea live delicate hair cells which move and bend to send sound information to the brain. When an average sound is sent through, the hair cells move within incident, snapping back to their normal state.

If loud sounds are sent rippling through this system, however, these hair cells become damaged and can even die. This damage can occur all at once with an extremely loud sound, an acoustic trauma, or slowly over time (Fig. 1). Damage to the hair cells prevents speech and sound from traveling to the brain in a precise and accurate way. If cell death occurs, this can prevent individuals from hearing certain frequencies, or pitches, of sounds at all. Typically, this damage affects pitches in the range of human speech, making communication difficult. The inner ear is organized by frequency, or pitch. Higher pitches are more susceptible to damage because they are closest to the outside world (Fig. 2).

If damage to the hair cells occurs due to frequent daily exposure to loud sounds, individuals may not notice the effects until they become more pronounced. With continued exposure, the damage can cause hearing loss severe enough to warrant hearing aids or other forms of amplification. With extremely loud sounds, like explosions or fireworks at close range, physical damage to the ear can occur like ruptured eardrums or damage/dislocation of the middle ear bones, the ossicles.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimate that 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels daily. Worldwide, 500 million individuals are exposed to this level of noise. Hazardous noise is defined as that which exceeds 85 dB if an individual is exposed for an 8-hour day. Exposure for 8 hours, however, is not necessary for damage related to noise to occur. In a basic sense, the louder the sound is, the less time it takes for permanent hearing damage to occur.
Some common examples to give you a sense of what exactly “85 dB” means can be seen below. The shaded region represents 85 dB – the cut-off for what qualifies as “hazardous noise” in relation to the intensity of each common sound.

We often measure this damage in “thresholds” or the level at each pitch an individual is ability to pick up sound. As noted before, noise can lower these thresholds causing individuals to have difficulty picking up certain pitches. Some individuals, however, may seem completely normal in terms of their ability to hear that even soft sounds are present, but may complain of difficulty understanding in background noise or other difficult listen situations like a reverberant room. This phenomena may occur after what is called a temporary threshold shift.

There are two broad categories of “Noise Induced Hearing Loss” (NIHL): temporary threshold shifts and permanent threshold shifts. If an individual is either exposed to an incredibly loud sound for even a second, like a gun firing, or a lower level sound like an electric drill for a longer period of time daily, they can present with a permanent threshold shift. This means that noise has damaged inner ear hair cells resulting in a permanent hearing loss.

In contrast, an individual may experience momentary hearing difficulty after a rock concert (~110 dB) that lasts 3 hours, for example, this being a temporary threshold shift. With a temporary threshold shift, the hearing loss at each pitch fully recovers to normal, or whatever the hearing was before exposure.

Although “temporary” threshold shift may seem benign since the perception that sound is present recovers, the damage from this exposure can still be lasting. When exposed to a moderately loud sound for a shorter amount of time the inner hair cell damage or death, as mentioned above, may not occur. What does happen, however, is a loss of cochlear nerve terminals or spiral ganglion cells, most simply defined as the connection between the inner ear hair cells to the brain. This loss or damage can occur very rapidly and is irreversible. This damage is what causes these individuals to have difficulty understanding speech, especially in background noise.

There are some simple ways to tell if the noise at your workplace is too loud without any special equipment. Do you need to speak louder when talking to co-workers? If your employees complain about sounds being too loud, have difficulty understanding one another, or complain of diminished hearing at the end of the day, it might be time to invest in some noise conservation measures. You might have an issue with noise if you work in a factory, on a construction site, in a concert hall, or if you use any power tools or loud machinery.

In Part Two of this series, we will discuss options for noise management, as well as the trouble with hearing in noise.

How to Use ListenTalk in Your Facility

Key Points

• Background noise can severely limit the amount of communication that takes place in an industrial setting.
• ListenTalk systems provide a simple solution that will work in a variety of scenarios.
• Effectively communicating to investors, executives, trainees, and others on facility tours can guide the safety of participants, provide a medium for clear communications, and ensure a good experience for all involved.

How to Use ListenTalk in Your Facility

There’s an old rule of thumb that’s used for checking if the noise levels in a facility are high enough to require hearing protection. The rule says that if you are standing three feet apart from a coworker and need to raise your voice to be heard, the noise level is loud enough to require hearing protection.

This rule may be a friendly reminder for when to wear hearing protection, but it leaves out some critical considerations when it comes to communication in the workplace. If you have to raise your voice to be heard at three feet apart, what if you are communicating to a large group on a tour or training? What if those individuals are wearing earplugs? Does only the nearest one who you are projecting to actually hear you? And for the rest of the group, how much of the message reaches them? Are the words clearly heard and understood, or are some participants walking away with no idea what was just said?

When it comes to safety, these communication issues must be solved to make sure the communications get through loud and clear. One way to help convey the message is the use of ListenTalk systems.

Safety

Many incident investigations reveal that failures of communication were a root cause of accidents and injuries. Think of situations where missed communications in your workplace could lead to issues. One example I have experienced was instructing new employees on the safe routes to take across a facility, not realizing they couldn’t hear the instruction.

Another example is maintenance professionals coordinating a task over the sounds of a noisy factory. Typically if teams are working in different areas, they may be communicating with radios, requiring their hands to be free or by the use of a signal person. However, with ListenTalk, maintenance crews can hear the same message and be hands-free.

Although using ListenTalk will not provide hearing protection, it will give the assurance of clearer communication.

Training

Of the times that employees are likely to be injured, the first few months in a new job are some of the most dangerous. On-the-job training almost always has a large portion that occurs in the field. If employees can’t hear the instructor during training, they are much more likely only to grasp the concepts partially, if at all.

What key elements of the safety program rely on training in the facility to make sure employees can do their jobs safely? What issues could be caused if this training wasn’t heard?

In today’s complex industrial spaces, employees have to understand procedures. This could involve technical issues like lockout tagout or simpler tasks like operator’s routes. If the original training suffers due to poor communication, so will the employee’s long term performance. Using ListenTalk systems can provide an easy way for the trainer to communicate with employees.

Tours

I have gone on tours of so many facilities where the leader was followed by a group of people who were just smiling and nodding. Have you ever seen this? Occasionally, a leader may even point at a specific process, and everyone turns to look, but you know the group has missed the entire explanation.

I’ve been there.

I’ve also given these tours and questioned if any of my messages were really getting through.

When guiding any visitor from executives to students to investors to consultants, issues with communication can be detrimental to the situation.

Investors

The investors want to know if the company is safe before making a decision. But how can you explain complex industrial safety systems to people who aren’t familiar with the equipment? Often, the explanation has to lead to understanding to help sway a decision.

Executives

For our executive visits, I was once put on the spot by a group of C-suite professionals who wanted to know everything about a recent incident. I was able to explain it on the floor. Still, when we reviewed the specifics back in a conference room, I found that many had watched where I was pointing, but couldn’t hear me and had all come to different conclusions about what had actually happened during the incident. This caused a lot of concern and confusion. It took over an hour to sort out and get everyone on the same page. That entire issue could have been avoided with a communication system.

Visitors

Hosting visitors like students and families of employees can be a great way to get community support. However, visitors are usually not accustomed to the serious hazards of industrial environments. This means tours need to be conducted with a focus on safety. Simple things we take for granted, like staying in pedestrian paths when forklifts are present, could be totally new to a visitor. Instructing visitors where it is safe to walk and how to behave in an industrial facility is a critical part of making sure the tour is safe and fun.

Often the purpose of tours is to educate members of the public about the facility. This involves explaining concepts and describing processes. These communications have to be heard, seen, and understood be to be appreciated by the audience. An enjoyable tour can result in better community support and more interest from potential future employees. It’s a great chance to make a first impression. ListenTalk systems can help to facilitate that.

Using ListenTalk in Your Facility

There are plenty of good reasons to incorporate technology that assists communication in noisy environments. For most of us, safety is the most important. The communications a business makes to stakeholders, executives, and members of the community are also crucially important. Using a system like ListenTalk can ensure that your message gets across clearly while visitors stay safe.

man at an event struggling to hear

New Tech: Hearing Assistive Technology

The hearing assistive technology industry has seen major advancements in recent years, both in the variety and quality of options. Entire venues are built with technology that improves the listening and communication experience for everyone, new hearing aids on the market can be charged by solar power or translate languages in real-time, and apps have the ability to transform your powerful smartphone into portable hearing assistive device. Read more

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