Best Hearing Protection for Your Workplace
Determining the best form of hearing protection for your workplace can be challenging. It needs to suit both the conditions of your workplace environment as well as the individual needs of your workers.
When evaluating hearing protection options it is important to first ensure that hazardous noise has been minimised as much as possible from the source. Hearing protection should only be used as a last resort and controls need to be put in place before introducing hearing protection to eliminate or minimise hazardous noise. If hearing protection is relied upon too heavily and other methods are not put in place, the risk of hearing loss or damage increases. Noise control measures could include;
Purchasing the quietest possible machinery in the first instance
Modifying equipment in order to reduce noise pollution at the source, this could include using silencers
Use barriers, like soundproofing, to isolate the noise
Only operating noisy machinery at times when fewer people will be exposed to the noise
Limiting the amount of time workers are exposed to the hazardous noise
Designating quiet areas for workers to have relief from the noise
These measures should be put in place as much as is practically possible and if after this has been done and the noise hazard still cannot be eliminated or reduced to a safe level below 85 decibels, then hearing protection is required.
When making the decision as to what hearing protection will be best for your workplace it is important to consider the requirements of your workplace as well as the individual needs of your workers. For instance, if workers are completing tasks where their hands get dirty or they need to wear gloves, earplugs become hard to remove hygienically so another option, such as banded ear plugs or ear plugs with a stem, may be required to ensure workplace health and hygiene. Alternatively, if you work in very hot or humid conditions, ear muffs are not ideal as they can become very uncomfortable, but if work is being undertaken in colder environments, ear muffs might be preferable.
Important factors to consider when deciding on the best form of hearing protection for your workplace include;
Hearing protection must be comfortable for workers to wear for an extended period of time. If hearing protection is uncomfortable it is more likely to be removed by the wearer to have a reprieve and in these times the risk of hearing damage is heightened. Conversely, if protection is comfortable it can be worn without needing any respite and will be a consistent form of protection whilst in an environment where workers are exposed to hazardous noise. When evaluating the comfort of different types of hearing protection consider;
Pressure is essential for adequate attenuation, however if pressure is excessive the hearing protection becomes uncomfortable to wear.
Hearing protection must be the correct size, it should fit tightly enough so that it creates a seal separating the inner ear from any hazardous noise, but not too tight that it should feel uncomfortable to wear.
Ear plugs and ear muffs need to be soft enough so that they do not cause irritation or discomfort when removing and reinserting several times per day.
An example of selecting correctly weighted hearing protection is ear muffs. Higher attenuation ear muffs are often much heavier, with more chance of workers being tempted to remove them throughout the day in order to take a break. Lighter ear muffs have slightly less attenuation capabilities but are much more comfortable and therefore much more likely to be worn consistently throughout the day.
Selecting hearing protection that is compatible with the temperature of your workplace is essential. Ear muffs are ideal for colder environments and if your workplace is particularly hot, ear plugs are the better option.
The most comfortable form of hearing protection is best determined by assessing the conditions of your workplace, the preferences of your workers and the different types of hearing protection on the market.
Ease of Use
As workers will be using the hearing protection themselves, they must be easy to use. If hearing protection is not properly fitted and worn, it is ineffective. Therefore, workers must be able to easily care for and fit their own hearing protection to prevent any hearing damage occurring in the work place. When evaluating the ease of use of hearing protection options consider;
Hearing protection must be easy to use without too much handling to ensure the hygiene of those wearing it. There is a potential for ear infections if hearing protection is not handled hygienically. If workers are required to wear gloves or have dirty hands, ear plugs may not be the best option as they will be difficult to remove hygienically without transferring any dirt or contaminants to the ear.
If hearing protection needs to be put on in a hurry or frequently removed and reinserted, selecting push to fit ear plugs, banded ear plugs or ear muffs will be a better option than standard earplugs which have a much more involved fitting process.
Provide workers with easy storage options to ensure their hearing protection is kept clean or, if not possible, provide dispensers for disposable ear plugs.
Hearing protection must be compatible with all other types of personal protective equipment. The performance of one should not be hindered by the performance of another.
Hearing protection must strike a balance between protecting the wearer’s hearing from hazardous noise while still allowing them to hear instructions or warnings. There are obvious risks in under-protecting workers’ hearing, but over-protection is also a factor to consider. Workers’ with normal hearing should be able to hear warnings or instructions if they are wearing appropriate hearing protection and it has been fitted properly. If noise levels reach above 85 decibels and hearing protection is not being worn it becomes hard to communicate as workers will need to shout to be heard. If correctly tested and fitted hearing protection is worn, noise should be reduced to a comfortable level making communication much easier as normal communication should be processed with much less distortion. Wearing too much hearing protection will hinder communication as it cuts out too much sound so instructions and safety warnings cannot be heard. This poses obvious workplace safety risks but can also lead to feelings of isolation from workers, so should be avoided.
Other factors to consider when selecting hearing protection for your workplace;
The individual needs of your workers
Workers may require different types of hearing protection, depending if they have specific requirements or are already suffering from hearing damage. It is important that their individual needs are taken into consideration as ill-fitting protection is ineffective.
The level of noise and how it will be best managed
Consider the noise reduction controls already put in place and if these could be built upon to reduce the need for hearing protection.
The target in-ear noise
In-ear noise refers to the amount of noise reaching the ear when a person is wearing hearing protection. The standard in-ear level is 80 decibels. In-ear levels of 85 decibels are too high and may cause damage and 70 decibels is considered over protection.
The degree of attenuation required
Attenuation refers to the reduction of noise levels. Consider what noise level workers are exposed to and how much this needs to be attenuated, or reduced, to achieve a safe level of below 85 decibels.
Determining the best hearing protection for your workplace can be challenging as there are a lot of competing factors to consider. Contact the team at ATOM Safety for assistance in finding the most appropriate hearing protection for your workplace.