Types of Hearing Protection
There are many variations of personal protective equipment available to protect hearing. Depending on the working environment and the individual needs of workers, different types of PPE will suit specific hearing protection requirements more than others.
Types of hearing protection include;
Ear Muffs completely cover the outer ear to protect against hazardous noise and are held in place by a headband. The headband should be firm yet comfortable. The pressure of the headband holds the cup in place over the ear to create good attenuation so should not be too loose. The soft cushion seal on the cup should completely enclose the ear and the sound absorbent foam will create a seal to prevent hazardous noise reaching the ear. Make sure the seal is undamaged to ensure its optimal performance. Safety ear muffs are very easy to use and are ideal for environments where hearing protection needs to be taken on and off regularly. They are desirable for work taking place in cold or windy environments as they provide an extra layer of warmth. In hot environments they can be uncomfortable and they may also be difficult to wear for workers required to be in a confined space or those needing to wear a safety helmet, unless the ear muffs are able to be attached directly to the safety helmet.
Disposable Ear Plugs
Disposable ear plugs are inserted into the ear canal to form a seal against hazardous noise and are designed for single use. They should be compressed by rolling them into a tight cylinder and then inserted into the ear canal. They will then expand and seal the ear canal. It is important they are inserted deep into the ear canal as if not, they will not seal the canal and you will still be exposed to harmful noise levels. Disposable ear plugs are relatively comfortable as they conform to the shape of your ear canal. They are a suitable option of hearing protection for people already suffering from hearing loss as they do not distort high frequency sounds as much as some other forms of hearing protection do.
Reusable Ear Plugs
Reusable ear plugs are made from pre-molded silicone and fit snug inside the ear canal. They can be corded or uncorded. They do not absorb moisture which makes them ideal for use in wet working environments or in conditions where workers are significantly perspiring. They can last up to three weeks if they are cared for correctly, are able to be cleaned with mild soap and water and should be stored in a case away from heat and direct sunlight. Because they are replaced less often, they pose a lower cost in the long term than disposable ear plugs do.
Semi Insert Ear Plugs or Ear Canal Caps
Ear canal caps have rounded heads which cover the entrance to the ear canal. Semi insert ear plugs are pushed deeper into the ear to seal the ear canal. They are made of light rubber and are held in place by a tension band which can be worn either under or behind the neck. Firm pressure is required of the band as this is what maintains an effective seal. They are ideal for work sites which require regular, short term visits to areas with high level noise exposure as they can hang around the neck if not being worn and can be easily reinserted. As they are not fully inserted into the ear canal like other types of hearing protection, they are very hygienic. They do need to be inserted correctly as if not, they are not as effective. They also generally have a lower attenuation rating than ear plugs or ear muffs.
Banded Ear Plugs
Banded ear plugs have a soft foam or elastic tip which is connected to a flexible band that fits around the back of the head. This form of hearing protection is very versatile and convenient to take on an off. It is ideal for workers who are constantly moving in and out of areas where they are exposed to hazardous noise levels and who need to remove and reinsert their hearing protection regularly. The pads on banded ear plugs should be cleaned and replaced regularly.
Push to Fit Earplugs
Push to fit ear plugs feature a soft foam tip and a flexible stem. There is no need to roll the tip of these ear plugs in order to insert them. They can be removed via the stem which make them ideal for workers who are performing tasks which dirty their hands or workers who are required to wear gloves as the dirt is not being transmitted into the ear canal like it can be with other forms of hearing protection. They are also suitable for workers who have trouble rolling the tips on other forms of ear protection as they are very easy to use.
Metal Detectable Ear Plugs
Metal detectable ear plugs have a metal tab in each plug which is connected to a metalised cord. Most cords are blue in colour so that they are highly visible. This form of hearing protection is often required in the food industry to prevent contamination from ear plugs and cords as the metal makes them easily detectable.
Once you have identified the most suitable type of hearing protection for your individual needs it is important that procedures surrounding their fit and use are strictly followed. If not, the effectiveness of the hearing protection is reduced. Most importantly, hearing protection must fit correctly as, if ill-fitting, it will not protect workers from hazardous noise levels. Therefore, it is essential that hearing protection is compatible with all other personal protective equipment required on the worksite so that one does not impact the performance of another. Workers should also be provided with proper training on the correct way to care for, inspect and insert their hearing protection.
Hearing protection has been tested to ensure it will provide adequate protection but it must also be fitted correctly to ensure proper protection against hazardous noise. Hearing protection that is fitted incorrectly will not offer effective protection and the risk of hearing damage is increased. As well as this, if correct health and hygiene practices are not followed when fitting hearing protection, irritation and infection may occur. The below instructions outline how hearing protection in the form of ear plugs should be fitted but the basic principles of these instructions apply to all hearing protection types.
Before handling any form of hearing protection ensure hands have been thoroughly washed and dried.
Inspect the hearing protection equipment to make sure it has no defects and is not damaged or dirty.
Hold the ear plug between your index finger and thumb and roll it into a tight cylinder.
With your hand over your head, pull your outer ear up and out and insert the plug into your ear canal.
When inserting plug into your right ear, use your right hand and when inserting into the left ear, use your left hand.
Once inserted, hold your finger over the top of the earplug and you should feel it expand to completely seal the ear canal.
Check the fit, if inserted correctly most of the plug should be hidden from view by your tragus (front, inner side of the ear) when standing front on.
The fit can also be tested by cupping your hands over your ears and releasing them in a noisy location. If hearing protection has been fitted correctly you should not notice a significant difference.
To remove, twist the ear plug as you gently pull it out. Pulling it straight out without twisting may cause discomfort.
If the appropriate type of hearing protection has been selected and it is fit following the above instructions, it will be an effective tool in minimising the risk of hearing loss or damage.
Areas on your worksite where hearing protection is required must be clearly marked. No one should enter any area where they could be exposed to hazardous noise without some form of hearing protection, no matter how little time they will be spending in that area. Hearing protection needs to be worn at all times when in such areas and should only be removed once there is no longer a risk of exposure.
Procedures must also be introduced to ensure these measures are being properly abided by and that any issues with hearing protection defects or concerns about hazardous noise risks can be raised.
With many different options of hearing protection available it is sometimes difficult to figure out the best hearing protection for your workplace. For further information about the different types of hearing protection available, contact the team at ATOM Safety.