Hearing Protection Myths – Busted

EarmuffsTemporary or permanent occupational hearing loss is a risk you might not be willing to take. It can alter what could have been a relaxing TV night into a noise fest for your neighbors. Good thing state laws require personal protective equipment for specific workplace hazards. But as regulations get tighter, excuses to loosen them come up and become ideas believed to be correct—except they’re not.

Here are some common schools of thought in hearing protection that turn out to be myths and misconceptions:

#1: Wearing hearing protection device (HPD) creates communication problems.

Do you ever notice how sunglasses reduce excess glare to improve your vision in broad daylight? Ear protection does the same thing to ambient noise of more than 85 dB(A). It allows you to hear speech more clearly by trimming down overall noise level which otherwise distorts specific sounds. This effect, however, is more likely to be evident for people who have normal hearing and are used to wearing ear protection.

#2: Earmuffs give better noise protection than ear plugs.

This misconception must have arisen from a weak commitment to wear ear protection. Earmuffs may score higher in terms of durability and convenience. Its head- and neckband design makes constant use and removal a breeze. But with good noise reduction rating (NRR) and proper fitting, ear plugs can outperform earmuffs in many cases. When correctly inserted into the ear canal, the affordable, commonly disposable HPD can prevent noise leak better than its bulky, more expensive brother—proving that bigger isn’t always better. So depending on how you look at it, ear plugs are never far behind.

#3: An ear protection device’s real-world performance is half its labeled NRR.

De-rating hearing protectors is recommended only if the manufacturer’s subject-fit data are not available. In theory, the data show estimates of an HPD’s attenuation in the real world. If this information is supplied, cutting the noise reduction rating in half or any percentage is not the most prudent way to go. It can result in over-protection, blocking off even necessary sounds such as alarms. So before you use that math wizard skills and discount that NRR, learn and teach first how to properly wear HPDs for protection over comfort.

#4: It’s impossible to wear earmuffs over protective eyewear without compromising attenuation.

An earmuff’s performance lies on its cushioned ear cups; the tighter they are sealed against the head, the better. If there is a need to wear safety eyewear with earmuffs, make sure the frame thickness doesn’t go beyond 2mm. Compared against 3mm and 6mm thick frames (which can reduce NRR value by about 2 to 5 dB), thin frames have very little to no effect on attenuation.

Earplugs#5: Reusable or disposable, all ear plugs are the same.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” you say? Well, a reused pair of disposable ear plugs would smell rather disgusting. And since they are commonly made of foam, they easily wear out and collect dirt after washing. Reusable ear plugs, on the other hand, are made of rubber or plastic. However, they are mostly preformed or pre-molded, limiting its effectiveness by how well they fit inside the ear canal. In this case, expandable foam ear plugs do the trick.


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