NIOSH to Helicopter Gunners, Pilots: "Quiet Please, and Get the Lead Out!"

May 14, 2014- The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is reporting on a recent Health Hazard Evaluation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The report, titled "NIOSH Assesses Noise, Lead Exposures among Helicopter Pilots, Gunners," details the agency's response to provide technical assistance relating to the occupational health concerns over the flight safety of helicopter crews exposed to firearm noise and lead during target training exercises.

The crews involved were among those assisting in the "interception and disabling of drug- and contraband-running watercraft."

The findings by the NIOSH investigators included the following:

• Helicopter pilots and gunners are exposed to noise above NIOSH's exposure limits during training, from gunfire in particular. Peak noise levels were found to exceed 150 dB.

• Among the agency's recommendations were engineering controls to help reduce noise exposures, including installing a noise-dampening bulkhead behind the pilot seats, creating a small cabin window that may be opened during gunfire to reduce cabin pressure, and fitting crews with double hearing protection.

• Samples taken of cabin air found lead exposure limits below occupational limits, but lead dust was found on helicopter cabin surfaces. NIOSH recommends a quarterly cleaning of the inside of helicopter cabins to eliminate lead accumulation on surfaces, and using non-lead bullets and primers once these become economically feasible.

Read the full AIHA post here. Read the full NIOSH report here.

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