The Importance of Hearing Protection: Finding the Right Fit for Effective Noise Reduction

The Importance of Hearing Protection Drawing Attention to Your Ears

Ear protection is essential for many jobs. However, workers often don’t wear it properly or consistently. This is a result of both ignorance and misguided protocols/standards.

Hearing protectors are rated according to their noise-reducing capabilities, known as their NRR. The NRR is based on laboratory tests, and derating systems are used to adjust this value for real world workplace conditions.

Earplugs

Earplugs are small, relatively inexpensive pieces of PPE that can make a big difference in the life of someone who needs hearing protection. Earplugs fit inside the ear canal and seal out noise, Terry says. Workers who need to hear a lot of loud sounds—from construction sites to airplane tarmacs—may want to wear them in both ears, but earplugs also can protect against noise at less intense levels.

Because ear canals can have different shapes and sizes, finding the right fit is important for a comfortable experience. Many types of earplugs are available: foam plugs that are rolled into a thin tube shape for insertion; pre-molded plastic or silicone plugs that come in one size to fit most ear canals; and canal caps, which look like small caps worn on the tips of each ear. These are often used for music concerts and other high-noise events, but they can be effective in the workplace when fitted properly.

Ear muffs

Earmuffs fit over the ears and enclose the entire outer ear to reduce noise. They are easy to slip on and can be worn with other personal protective equipment such as a safety helmet. They can also be used in conjunction with earplugs for increased protection in extreme noise conditions.

Some ear muffs are high-tech, with integrated speakers and microphones to enable workers to hear a supervisor’s commands or other colleagues while on the job. They can also double as two-way headsets linked to a jobsite communication system.

Some workers find ear muffs uncomfortable on warm days, because they can trap heat and cause perspiration around the head and ears. Additionally, if a worker has long hair or sideburns, it can break the seal that the ear cups make around the ear and result in decreased hearing protection. Some people also feel that ear muffs can be noisy and may interfere with speaking clearly. However, studies have shown that a combination of ear plugs and ear muffs does not improve sound localization.

Helmets

When properly fitted, helmets can offer some protection for the ears. Ideally, the helmet should sit flat on your head, with one part of the strap in front and the other behind your ears. The chinstrap should be snug around your throat but not tight enough to cause headaches. If the helmet tilts back or forward, adjust the rear straps.

Using a helmet with earplugs or earmuffs offers increased attenuation compared to earplugs alone, particularly in higher frequencies. (See Fig. 7.)

Check that the ear cup seals are flexible and do not become stiff or brittle with use. Earmuffs and earplugs should be cleaned frequently, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Disposable earplugs should not be stored with the seals pressed against the helmet, which can permanently distort them. Disposable earplugs are best kept in a dispenser that keeps them clean and ready for use. A noise dosimeter that records how the sound level varies with time can help identify significant noisy periods and tasks when hearing protectors should be worn.

Custom Fit

Whether you work in a noisy environment or enjoy leisure activities like sports events or music concerts, all noise chips away at your hearing nerves over time. And if you’re constantly exposed to loud noise, it can even cause permanent hearing loss.

Unlike ready-made earplugs or foam earplugs, custom fit ear protection offers the most effective sound reduction possible because they are made from hypo-allergenic acrylic that fits perfectly in your ear canal and outer ear. This allows you to hear clearly while keeping sound levels safe, and provides superior comfort compared to other ear protection.

In addition, customized ear protectors allow for Individual Fit Testing that produces a single estimate of real-world attenuation (or PAR) for each user. This eliminates the need for clunky NRR derating methods and enables employees to choose protection that’s comfortable and effective, resulting in higher compliance.

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