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Prolonged exposure to high decibels of noise in any occupation may lead to hearing damage or even loss if the right protective gear is not worn so hearing protection in the workplace is important. Work-related hearing loss is a big issue when it comes to an individual’s safety and health. It is especially common in industries like mining, manufacturing, and construction.
Hearing protection in the workplace: What Constitutes Too Much Noise?
Annually, 22 million workers experience hazardous noise levels at their place of employment. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Recommended Exposure Limit for noise is 85 decibels. This is the limit that an individual can experience occupational noise without wearing hearing protection.
Two factors influencing occupational exposure limits are the exchange rate and criterion levels. Criterion levels are established as the ongoing, steady level of noise permitted in an eight-hour shift. When noise goes beyond this established level, the time of exposure without protective gear needs to be decreased to avoid hearing damage/loss.
Maximum exposure, in this case, is the maximum rate of being exposed to loud levels of noise and is calculated using the exchange rate.
Hearing protection in the workplace: How Do High Levels of Constant Noise Damage Hearing?
Constant loud noises for long durations damage cells found in the inner ear. Hair cells located in the cochlea convert sound vibrations to electric signals. From there, our brains interpret the sounds. Long-term exposure causes irreparable damage to the cells. Hearing loss is permanent.
Unfortunately, 30-50% of the cells can be destroyed prior to loss of hearing being detected by a hearing test. As mentioned, once it is lost, it cannot be restored. Furthermore, outside of damaged cells, loud levels of noise damages the auditory nerve that carries sound signals to the brain.
If your workplace can’t reduce noise exposure, employees need to invest in hearing protection.
Hearing protection in the workplace: What Do You Look for to Protect Your Hearing?
There are many products available, but the Center for Disease Control and Protection breaks it down into three areas.
- Become familiar with how much noise reduction is required. While the first consideration is to block out enough noise to return to normal levels, most industrial noise exposures are no more than 95 dBA. Therefore, workers may need ear protection that reduces noise by 10dB.
Most properly fitted hearing protectors can cover this reduction in sound. If you are unsure of the levels in your workplace, you can use this app to find them.
- Consider your job and workplace. You need to think about what other equipment is required prior to buying hearing protection. Do you wear any personal protective equipment on your head? This would include construction hats, respirators, and eye protectors.
Hearing protection in the workplace: Other factors to consider
Eye protectors may interfere with how some ear protectors fit. You want a firm seal covering the ear so that sound is effectively dampened. Also, earmuffs can interfere with wearing helmets, hard hats, or any device covering the head. Whatever you choose must be compatible with all other protective gear.
Is the work noise intermittent or continuous? Are you always in the same location throughout the day? This will determine whether you need ear plugs or earmuffs. For exposure that fluctuates, sound restoration or level-dependant protectors allow sound to come through when noise levels are lower. They protect your ear when the noise rises.
The level of cleanliness is also a factor in protective gear. If you are in a dirty environment, you may not want to wear foam earplugs, which require users to roll them down prior to insertion.
Your environment may play an additional role. Earmuffs may not be desirable in hot climates, and the cushions may lose their effectiveness in extreme cold. Also, you need to consider those speaking to you. If there is frequent communication or music playing, special communication headsets may be an asset.
- What will ultimately be convenient and comfortable? After the choices have been narrowed down, your selection will be a matter of preference. Protection for hearing works only when used properly, so be sure that you are familiar with how it works.
Best Hearing Protection in the workplace
In examining the best protection for your hearing, we looked at how many decibels of noise were blocked out and examined the styles of hearing protection. Since not every hearing protection device will work for all workplaces, we have incorporated a variety of each available product on the market.
Best Noise Reduction Headphones:
ProCase Noise Reduction Safety Ear Muffs
These headphones come with an ergonomic headband accompanied by a comfortable, soft padding. It reduces pressure on the head and provides ample space inside the ear cups for breathability. The imitation leather provides a tight seal to eliminate excess noise.
- Thick foam dampens noise
- Ear cups rotate 360° and fits any age group
- Folds compactly when not in use
- Can be used in the following occupations: firearms, woodworking, lawn care, landscaping, construction, or working with heavy machinery
- Thicker material
- Imitation leather may cause perspiration
Best to Accommodate Head Gear:
3M Peltor Ear Muffs
Reduce noise by up to 21 dB with these earmuffs, which easily attach to a hard hat. The advanced earcup inserts improve the reduction of noise, with the foam creating a good seal for hearing protection. The cups are made from ABS plastic, which can withstand impact, are high in strength, and can handle tough environments.
- Specially designed for manufacturing plants, construction, automotive industries, and woodworking facilities
- Cushions and inserts are replaceable for increased hygiene
- Can fit full-brim hard hats
- Not extremely lightweight
- May not fit on all brands of construction helmets
ISOtunes True Wireless Earplug Earbuds
These earplug earbugs are wireless and fit nicely to block out sound. The ear tips are composed of heat active memory foam, which expand to remove sound. They contain a 22dB noise reduction and are available with three pairs of ear tips ranging from small to large. There are also three pairs of silicone ear tips.
- Discrete, cordless solution
- 21-hour battery
- Portable charging case
- May not work well in loud environments
- Need to have clean hands to remove
These are just a few recommendations of hearing protection that can be worn to prevent hearing loss while at work. They will effectively muffle excessive noise levels, they’re durable, and many are designed to accommodate different occupations and occupational considerations. Be sure the ones you select are the best for your workplace to keep your hearing healthy.