Fit for the frontline? A focus group exploration of auditory tasks carried out by infantry and combat support personnel

Noise Health. Mar-Apr 2014;16(69):127-35. doi: 10.4103/1463-1741.132101.


In order to preserve their operational effectiveness and ultimately their survival, military personnel must be able to detect important acoustic signals and maintain situational awareness. The possession of sufficient hearing ability to perform job-specific auditory tasks is defined as auditory fitness for duty (AFFD). Pure tone audiometry (PTA) is used to assess AFFD in the UK military; however, it is unclear whether PTA is able to accurately predict performance on job-specific auditory tasks. The aim of the current study was to gather information about auditory tasks carried out by infantry personnel on the frontline and the environment these tasks are performed in. The study consisted of 16 focus group interviews with an average of five participants per group. Eighty British army personnel were recruited from five infantry regiments. The focus group guideline included seven open-ended questions designed to elicit information about the auditory tasks performed on operational duty. Content analysis of the data resulted in two main themes: (1) the auditory tasks personnel are expected to perform and (2) situations where personnel felt their hearing ability was reduced. Auditory tasks were divided into subthemes of sound detection, speech communication and sound localization. Reasons for reduced performance included background noise, hearing protection and attention difficulties. The current study provided an important and novel insight to the complex auditory environment experienced by British infantry personnel and identified 17 auditory tasks carried out by personnel on operational duties. These auditory tasks will be used to inform the development of a functional AFFD test for infantry personnel.

MeSH terms

  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Communication
  • Ear Protective Devices
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Hearing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sound Localization*
  • Speech Perception*
  • United Kingdom
  • Work Capacity Evaluation*