What You Should Know About Hearing Protection

Workers usually remember to put on safety glasses when working on job sites with potential eye hazards but the ear protection is often neglected or taken for granted. Working in noisy environments for long hours has been proven to be dangerous for sensitive ears. There are health consequences that go beyond annoyance. Workers, overtime, may develop temporary or even permanent hearing loss. Tinnitus is another hearing condition characterized by persistent ringing noise. These health issues are serious and could affect your work, not to mention your quality of life.

Some workplaces may reduce the noise by dealing with the sources of the noise itself such as inefficient machinery, malfunctioning motors, and so on. But there is only so much you can do to reduce the cause of the noise in a dynamic workplace environment. As part of your occupational health and safety program, providing proper hearing protection may be the best way to prevent hearing problems for your workers.

Noise Levels in the Workplace

Different tools and machineries emit different levels of noise that can be measured in decibels or dB. While a quiet office or a library, on the average, may only have 40 dB of noise, a machine shop or factory may produce noise as much as 100 dB or more. In this case, workers need to be equipped with earmuffs, earplugs or both to reduce the noise levels and protect their ears. Jet engines or airplanes taking off produce such a dangerous level of noise, exposure must be limited to reduce the risk of hearing loss.

Guidelines for Noise Exposure

Standards are set to limit the safe and permissible exposure time to different noise levels. According to NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it’s not safe to expose workers to 85dB noise for more than 8 hours. A 115 dB level of noise is not safe all for the naked ears.

Always check for the NRR or Noise Reduction Rate when choosing your ear protection – the higher the NRR, the better. It’s recommended that you de-rate the NRR on the label though to compensate for fit that factors in how efficiently the earplugs or earmuffs can protect the ears.

  • Earmuffs – Subtract 25 % from the listed NRR
  • Formable Earplugs – Subtract 50% from the listed NRR
  • All other Earplugs – Subtract 70% from the listed NRR

Maximum Protection Provided by Non-Continuous Use of Hearing protection

For maximum protection, don’t remove your hearing protection while in the noisy workplace. The percentage of usage greatly affects the protection rate of the earplugs or earmuffs. If you reduce usage to 50%, your protection level decreases ten times. In the example illustrated below, an ear protection meant to reduce noise by 30 dB will fall drastically to only 3 dB of protection if worn half the time.

Hearing Protection Inforgraphic

Hearing loss is very preventable with the right ear protection. Don’t wait for your hearing to deteriorate before donning earplugs or earmuffs. The sense of hearing is just as precious as the sense of sight. It’s only when hearing is lost do you realize just how much.



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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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