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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Hearing Protection & Reflective Clothing Options

In mining and construction sites, there are many measures to prevent work-related injuries and potential health hazards. Training, warning signs, regular equipment maintenance, and safety tools must all be present for a sound working environment. Miners and construction workers, however, are regularly exposed to more extreme conditions—two of these are excessive noise and low visibility—which require vigilant precautions both underground and on the surface.

Hearing Protection

Heavy equipment and machinery Ear Muff Headbandproduce sounds that are above the normal level ears can bear, and federal government permits noise at the maximum level of 87 dB(A) in an 8-hour exposure. However, this may still put onsite personnel at high risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). In Canada, excessive exposure to occupational noise accounts for approximately 9,000 cases of hearing impairment each year, a health hazard that affects their job performance, safety, and daily lives.

Looking right into the source of noise and reducing its sound level is a guaranteed method of prevention, but it is, more often than not, impractical. In this case, hearing protectors such as ear plugs and earmuffs are prescribed to and worn by workers. But choosing the right hearing PPE can be confusing. Here’s a list of the common types of hearing protection equipment to help you decide.

  • Ear plugs — Ear plugs are easy to carry around anywhere. They’re inexpensive and are either reusable or disposable. Preformed or pre-molded ear plugs, mostly made of rubber or plastic, are available in small to large sizes that can be washed and reused. Foam ear plugs are meant to follow the form of your ear canal as it expands, ideally making it “one size fits all.”
  • Earmuffs — Designed to completely cover the ear, earmuffs offer greater ear protection compared to stand-alone earplugs. These have small to large ear cups with cushions and are sometimes used with earplugs for better noise protection. One common complaint about earmuffs is that they are uncomfortable to wear with safety glasses on.
  • Canal caps — Canal caps have flexible headbands with form-able or pre-molded ear plugs on both tips. You can leave it hanging around the neck when not in use, making it convenient to use and carry.

Protective Clothing – High Visibility

Reflective Safety VestsWorking underground where supply of natural light is scarce to non-existent, or outside where fog or concrete dust cloud the vision can pose threats to the safety of miners and construction workers. Accidents like running over workers with heavy-duty machinery due to low visibility are not uncommon but are highly preventable.

In order to identify the risks that come with working around moving vehicles, hazard assessments are recommended as part of workplace injury prevention. When a significant amount of exposure to traffic hazards is found, warning signs and reflective clothing that alert vehicle operators of a worker’s presence will be required. In finding the right high-visibility clothing, here are some points to consider:

  • Colour — Colours should be fluorescent red-orange or red; bright yellow-green, red-orange or red; or fluorescent yellow-green for background materials. For contrasting colour stripes, fluorescent red-orange, yellow-green, or red can be used and must have a noticeable colour contrast to the background material.
  • Size — Full coverage of the body with fluorescent colours or contrasting colour stripes makes the worker and his movements more visible from different directions. It should be lightweight and fitted to the person with enough room for garments worn underneath (e.g. jacket).
  • Brightness — Bright colours and fluorescent materials are best worn under daylight. In low light worksites, fluorescent colours and reflective materials are more effective. Under dark conditions, retroreflective materials provide better visibility than fluorescent materials.

 

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