Hearing Protection Tips

Read these 25 Hearing Protection Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Safety Products tips and hundreds of other topics.

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What Is Considered Good Job Site Ear Protection?

Good Job Site Ear Protection

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends three types of active hearing protection:

  • Foam ear plugs, soft plugs that more or less mould themselves to your ear canal.
  • PVC ear plugs, more like those you might use with radio or CD player you jog or walk with.
  • Ear muffs or noise canceling headphones (those without the ability to bring in your favorite radio station).
The two most important considerations are your comfort, since you'll be wearing your safety ear protection for a good part of every day, and the noise reduction rating (NRR) of the best hearing protection you can afford. The higher number quoted by your ear plugs or ear protection muffs, the more noise that is muted. In most cases, you should consider the best hearing protection your budget allows for job site use, while you may buy ear plugs or muffs with a lower rating for personal use.

Some manufacturers to consider:

  • 3M earplugs – this company makes a variety of effective ear plugs.
  • Aearo earplugs – claims they make the most popular and comfortable ear plugs on the planet.
  • Bilsom hearing protection – along with earplugs, you can buy a selection of ear muffs, even those providing hearing protection with radio, a decent am/fm tuner included.
The answer to the question of adequate hearing protection devices depends largely on your individual job site circumstances. OSHA states that “employee exposure to excessive noise depends upon a number of factors, including:

  • The loudness of the noise as measured in decibels (dB).
  • The duration of each employee's exposure to the noise.
  • Whether employees move between work areas with different noise levels.
  • Whether noise is generated from one or multiple sources.”
OSHA also uses a rule of thumb you should consider. At your workplace, you can be exposed to a noise level of up to 90 dB for around 8 hours per day before ear noise protection is required.

   
What Are the General Types of Hearing Protection?

General Types of Hearing Protection

There are three basic types of hearing protection:

  • Inserted ear plugs, which fully block the ear canal.
  • Semi-insert ear plugs, which provide ear protection over the ear while held in place by a firm head band.
  • Ear protection muffs, with soft ear cushions and a hard outer shell.
In high noise situations, you could elect to wear two forms of choices, both ear plugs and hearing protection muffs. The single most important factor in hearing protection equipment is the NRR (noise reduction rating) of the classic ear plugs or muffs you use. Manufacturers normally give you information about the noise reducing value of the device with an NRR number as part of its product package. NRR ratings calculate maximum noise reduction results discovered under laboratory conditions and are quoted in decibels (dB). The more noise you want to cancel, the higher the number of decibel reduction you want.

Whether you choose classic ear plugs, foam ear plugs, or hearing protection muffs, pick the solution that is most comfortable for you and, if you need industrial hearing protection, consult with your co-workers and employer or visit the OSHA hearing protection areas to determine the best noise canceling solution for your situation.

   
What kinds of ear muffs are available for protecting ears from noise?

Ear Muffs For Hearing Protection

Employees need hearing protection that drowns out loud noise. However, blocking out too much sound can create a situation where workers aren't attuned to their environment. By selecting the proper ear muffs for hearing protection, you'll be providing the insurance your workers need to thrive in a noisy area. Ear muffs have varying degrees of hearing protection which are described below:

Noise blocking – Noise blocking ear muffs keep out the noise you don't want. Top of the line noise blocking ear muffs will give you maximum attenuation at all frequencies. An economical version can provide protection for short term situations in work environments.

Sound management – Sound management ear muffs use technology to get rid of unwanted noise while allowing workers to hear normal conversation. Features like alarm warnings add to the safety of these ear muffs.

Radio – Radio headphones give workers the protection they need from unwanted noise with the added bonus of being able to listen to AM and FM radio on the job.

   
What different types of ear plugs are available?

Ear Plugs For Every Situation

When loud noise becomes a health or safety issue, ear plugs are one product that can help protect you from hearing damage. However, not all ear plugs are the same. Choose ear plugs that best meet your needs. For instance, if you're wearing ear plugs all day long, you want to consider the comfort of the ear plugs. Choose low foam ear plugs which don't place pressure in your ear canal. In an environment where visibility is important (like food processing plants), choose ear plugs designed to be seen, such as Laser-Trak ear plugs. The Laser-Trak ear plugs also come with a cord, making it easy for you to keep track of both plugs. When you want ear plugs that have low sound distortion, try the Express pod plugs, which come with a grip for easy insertion into the ear.

   
Can I Find Hearing Protection That Also Provides Music or Communications Ability While I Work?

Hearing Protection That Provides Music or Communications Ability

If you want to eliminate noise but desire music or the ability to communicate with others while you're working, you can find products to meet both of these preferences. Modern noise canceling ear muffs can be fitted with an am/fm radio so the wearer can hear all the music or talk radio they want while working. While canceling out worksite noise, these ear protection radio products provide the welcomed noise you want on the job.

There are two types of communication-style ear noise protection. One variety is a “listen only” product that allows you to receive communication, within a specified bandwidth, from another location at your work site. If you are needed elsewhere or required to pass along messages to co-workers, these ear protection muffs are a wonderful addition to your tool kit. A more versatile solution of hearing protection with radio is the addition of a two-way communicator to your ear protection muffs. This hearing protection device is particularly useful on larger jobsites and higher rise buildings where face-to-face communication can be difficult. These ear protection muffs can be pricey, often over $400, but many larger construction companies find that they save significant dollars and worker-hours using this ear noise protection.

   
How Effective Are Custom Solutions for Hearing Protection?

Custom Solutions for Hearing Protection

There are a number of manufacturers that specialize in designing and making custom ear protection items. Some of the best earplugs are made by these custom designers. If you wear hearing protection equipment on a regular basis, custom earplugs might be the perfect solution for custom hearing protection. Custom made earplugs can be molded and fitted by a trained professional to perfectly fit your ears.

Whether you like “am fm hearing protection” with ear muffs with noise canceling properties or other electronic ear protection, a custom solution can be worth its weight in gold to you if you function in a sustained noise environment. Custom molded earplugs are the best earplugs to give you the most comfort and decibel reduction.

There are quite a few choices for custom ear protection, like CMeP in the U.K. and others in the U.S. As long as the custom hearing protection you choose meets or exceeds the minimum standards set by OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) and/or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) recommendations, you will enjoy superior noise reduction benefits. Custom ear protection may cost a bit more than off the shelf items, but your ear canals will be pleased with your choice.

   
What Does OSHA Recommend for Ear Protection?

OSHA Recommendations for Ear Protection

Both OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) in the U.S. and CCOHS (Canadian Council for Occupational Health & Safety) have similar recommendations for both the types and use of hearing protection devices. They state that the necessity of ear noise protection depends primarily on

  • The level of the noise to be eliminated.
  • The nature of the noise, sustained or intermittent.
  • The work responsibilities and comfort of the person wearing ear protection.
For instance, both agencies recommend the use of hearing protection equipment if you are surrounded by sustained noise levels of more than 85 to 90 decibels during an eight hour day. As the workplace noise level rises, the allowable time period to go without ear plugs or muffs is reduced. For example, if you're exposed to sustained noise for four hours at a decibel level over 95 dB, you should wear the best hearing protection available.

OSHA further states that “ Hearing protectors worn by employees must reduce an employee's noise exposure to within the acceptable limits noted in Table 5.” (Table 5 in the OSHA info booklet is the illustration that shows acceptable noise duration at various decibel levels). The question of whether to use the best earplugs or hearing protection muffs depends on how long the noise is sustained, the usual movements by the worker around the worksite, and the overall comfort level of the employee.

For example, let's assume you are exposed to a jackhammer, producing 105 decibels, but it is only used intermittently and not constantly. Wearing custom earplugs, embedded in your ears, might prove to be cumbersome to insert, remove, re-insert, etc. A good set of ear protection muffs may be much more convenient to use in this situation. The bottom line, per OSHA, is to recognize when hearing protection is needed and to ensure that the solution you choose reduces the noise level to, at least, under 85 to 90 dB.

   
Does loud noise only affect your hearing?

Effects Of Loud Noise

The World Health Organization's “Guidelines For Community Noise,” details the numerous health problems associated with working or living in a noisy environment, without hearing protection. The main health problems concluded by the WHO consists of:

Problems With Speech

Fatigue

Lack Of Concentration

Hearing Problems

Irritability

Problems With Sleep e.g. decreased REM

Mood Changes

The health problems reported are diverse and affect almost every human system. This is why it is a good idea to wear hearing protectors, to reduce the amount of noise around you.

   
When should I wear ear protection?

Sound thinking

Let's face it, there's a lot of noise out there, and a lot of it hazardous to our hearing health. There are literally hundreds of everyday activities that we engage in that call for the use of some form of hearing protection. Of course, it is often difficult to prepare for these moments, but if you know you are going to a heavy metal rock concert or rocket launching, for example, you can drop by the pharmacy to pick up some disposable foam earplugs before you go. If you are planning to use power tools, heavy machinery, noisy yard equipment, or firearms, or ride a motorcycle or snowmobile, stick in some plugs or put on some ear muffs.

   
How do I know if I have done damage to my ears?

How's that again?

Outside of going to a doctor, it isn't always easy to detemine whether you've damaged your hearing. But if sounds seem muffled, or you notice a ringing in your ears after noise exposure, this is a pretty good sign that you haven't done your hearing any favors. You may be experiencing what experts call "a temporary threshold shift" of your hearing. Keep exposing yourself to loud noises long enough, and the temporary shift could become a permanent hearing loss. 8 hours at 85 decibels is OSHA's measure.

   
What steps should be taken when exposed to noise?

OSHA's Occupational Noise Exposure

The guidelines on reducing hearing loss in the work environment are set out in the regulations entitled, “Occupational Noise Exposure: 29 CFR 1910.95.”

29 CFR 1910.95(a) provides a regulation to control the amount of exposure to noise about a certain decibel.

29 CFR 1910.95(b)(1) outlines the next step to be taken if the employee is exposed to high decibels of sound. Action should be taken to reduce the level. However, if this fails, hearing protectors must be given to all employees in that area.

29 CFR 1910.95(c) outlines the guidelines for a “Hearing Conservation Program,” while 29 CFR 1910.95(d), provides information on a noise monitoring program to be established in areas with 85 dB or higher.

   
How common is noise-related hearing loss?

The high cost of noise

Judging by the statistics, our hearing is taking a beating like never before. Researchers at Yale University tell us that noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common after age-related hearing loss (presbycusis). Here are a few more hearing loss factoids you can lay on your friends at work. Of the more than 28 million Americans with some degree of hearing impairment, as many as 10 million have hearing loss caused in part by excessive noise exposure in the workplace or during recreational activities. The economic costs of occupational hearing loss have been estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Noise-induced hearing loss has been well recognized since the industrial revolution. An early term for the condition was "boilermakers' disease," because so many workers who made steam boilers developed hearing loss. In today's noisy society, even children and young adults are at risk. A recent study found evidence of high-frequency hearing loss in nearly one third of a cohort of college students. Of course, the great majority of this lost hearing could have been prevented simply by using hearing protection.

   
How do ear plugs help protect hearing?

Put a plug in it!

Ear plugs conform to Mom's safety rule #16: Never put anything sharper than your elbow in your ear. That's what makes ear plugs so great. When used properly, they block out what you shouldn't hear, or don't want to hear. Earplugs are small inserts that fit into that hole in your ear. To work properly, they have to be be fit snugly. You'll know if they aren't in right, because they will most likely fall out. Be sure to use clean, fresh earplugs. Dirty or worn-out plugs may not seal and could irritate the ear canal. You'll find disposable plugs come in various shapes and sizes to fit individual ear canals and can be custom made. If you have trouble keeping ear plugs in your ears, they can be fitted to a headband. A note of caution: some foam ear plugs look like mini-marshmallows, so be careful what you put in your mouth.

   
What am I expected to do as an employer with areas of noise 85 decibels or more?

Noise Monitoring Program

As outlined in the regulations set forth by the OSHA, employers are required to have a hearing loss prevention program in place for employees who spend the average work day in a setting of over 85 dB of noise.

A noise monitoring program consists of many key areas such as letting employees know they will be working in a high decibel noise area, training employees to use hearing protection, and providing them concrete ways to reduce their risk of hearing loss.

Any noise monitoring program must also provide ways for employees to have their hearing tested on a frequent basis. Another part of this program involves documentation. Documentation is essential to identify areas where noise problems exist, or review previous results of an employee's hearing test.

   
What is the first step in caring for my hearing protectors?

Maintenance Of Reusable Hearing Protectors

Depending on the type of reusable hearing protection and/or ear plugs chosen, maintaining it is essential. Regardless of the manufacturer, industrial hearing protectors can be purchased with care and maintenance instructions on the outside of the box.

The first step in caring for your hearing protection would be to inspect them for any signs of torn edges, cracks, or broken pieces. Parts that are torn or broken off should be replaced before using it again.

Ear muffs can be wiped with warm water and mild soap. Be careful to not get the inner layers of the ear muffs wet, or they will not function properly.

Reusable ear plugs can be washed in warm soapy water, and a toothbrush or small brush used to scrub them.

It is important to replace torn or broken areas, and keep your hearing protector as clean as possible, to receive maximum hearing protection.

   
What’s the story on ear muff type hearing protection?

Maximize with muffs

As the name suggests, earmuff ear protection looks a little like the ear muffs we never wanted to wear as kids. Except that these ear muffs are for fighting decibels instead of frostbite. Unlike the hearing protection that fits in the ear canal, the ear muff fits over the entire outer ear and forms an air seal, which blocks the entire circumference of the ear canal. The ear muff is held in place by an adjustable band. One note of interest: Earmuffs will not seal completely around eyeglasses or long hair. Apparently near-sighted, long-haired types will just have to hold their hands over their ears and hope for the best (Ha Ha). Here's another factoid: Using earplugs and muffs together will give the wearer from 10 to 15dB more protection than either used alone. When should you use both muffs and plugs? When noise exceeds 105 dB. How loud is that? See the next article.

   
What precautions should I take before inserting ear plugs?

How To Insert Ear Plugs

Before installing ear plugs, it is advised your hands be clean and free of dirt.

i. Open the package of the ear plug and remove one of them.

ii. While holding the ear plug in one hand, use your other hand to pull your ear back and up.

iii. If it is a premolded ear plug, insert it carefully, taking care not to insert it too deeply.

iv. When using an expandable ear plug, spend a few seconds rolling it into a shape, which can be easily inserted into the ear.

If you have problems with insertion or removal of your ear plug, it is advised to let a friend assist you.

   
What is a decibel?

Decibel points

Although you may think Decibel was Jezebel's younger sister, nothing could be further from the truth. A decibel (dB) is a measure of sound intensity. The scale runs from the faintest sound the human ear can detect, which is labeled 0 dB, to over 180 dB, the noise at a rocket pad during blast off. By the way, a rock concert averages 110-120 dB Here are a few decibel level for some of our more popular sounds: Whisper 30, 60 normal conversation 60, lawnmower 90 , auto horn 115, gun muzzle blast 140. According to the experts, properly fitted earplugs or muffs reduce noise by 15 to 30 dB. The better earplugs and muffs are approximately equal in sound reductions, although foam ear plugs are better for low frequency noise and earmuffs for high frequency noise. For more information on decibels go to www.lhh.org/noise/decibel.htm

   
Can loud music really damage your hearing?

What do you think???

According to a popular heavy metal group, “Rock n' roll ain't noise pollution.” Well, maybe not, but if you listen to loud music or other types of noise for an extended period of time, you run the risk of damaging your hearing. Habitual exposure to noise above 85 dB will cause a gradual hearing loss in a significant number of individuals, and louder noises will accelerate this damage. So when the band starts to pump up the volume, it's time to reach for hearing protection in the form of disposable foam ear plugs, or in case of very intense noise levels, ear muff type protectors.

   
Can you explain what noise reduction ratings are?

Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR)

Noise reduction ratings were developed as a system to evaluate hearing protectors, and detail their benefits in a noisy environment.

Hearing protectors are tested within a simulated setting to reproduce the type and the intensity of noise a person will be subjected to. Afterwards, the hearing protector is graded on the NRR scale, and its noise reduction rating is published in decibels-NRR, by writing it on the outside of the package.

Noise reduction ratings are beneficial to use when determining the type of hearing protector to choose, because the NRR received in a simulated setting is the highest amount of noise reduction a particular hearing protector can produce.

   
What has caused my hearing loss?

Determinants Of Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss Determinants – When diagnosed with hearing loss, there are an assortment of reasons why this has occurred, and might not be attributed to one factor. The main causes, which contribute to hearing loss, are occupation, health, age, the type of noise, and its frequency:

i. Occupation – Hearing protection is important. For example, without hearing protection, someone operating a jackhammer can expect to be more susceptible to hearing loss then someone working in a library.

ii. Level Of Health – How healthy a person is can also determine if they are susceptible to hearing loss. Depending on the cause of the hearing loss, it might be more pronounced in someone who is not healthy, and some infections can lead to hearing loss as well.

iii. The Type Of Noise – This is a major determinant in hearing loss. For example, if the noise occurs from a lawnmower compared to an explosion, it would be expected the explosion would produce more sudden hearing loss compared to the lawnmower.

iv. Frequency – Frequency is one of the main factors, which can contribute to hearing loss. Higher frequency sounds might cause more damage than lower frequency sounds.

Therefore, these are just a few of the many determinants to consider when looking at the causes of hearing loss.

   
What is the difference between permanent and temporary hearing loss?

Permanent And Temporary Hearing Loss

As their names imply, temporary hearing loss is hearing loss for only a short duration, which is in contrast to permanent hearing loss which will not heal.

Temporary or conductive hearing loss will usually result from someone hearing a loud noise leading to damage in the structures of the ear. Other causes of temporary hearing loss include an ear infection or buildup of wax. Treating temporary hearing loss involves removing the blockage such as wax buildup, and decreasing the amount of loud noise the ears are exposed to.

Permanent hearing loss results from damage to a special part of the ear called the cochlea. The cochlea contains hair cells, which are in communication with the auditory nerve coming from the brain. Destruction of these hair cells by infection, trauma, or medication will sever the ability to hear and interpret sounds. Cochlear implants are a common way to treat permanent hearing loss.

   
Why should I constantly wear hearing protectors?

Wear Hearing Protectors Constantly

Some people who work continually in a noisy environment might feel it is okay to remove their hearing protectors. It is advised hearing protectors be worn as long as the noise is present. Even removing them for a short period of time will reduce the maximum amount of protection to your ears, and put you at risk for hearing loss. If hearing protectors are being removed for a few minutes because they are uncomfortable, be fitted for new ones.

A research study carried out on removing hearing protectors briefly, while the noise continued, showed the highest protection was when the hearing protectors were worn 100 percent. At 100 percent, most people were protected at 30 Decibels (dB), compared to 50 percent use, where people were only protected from 3 dB.

   
How can sound hurt my hearing?

A Hair-Raising Story

You might say that hearing loss starts with little tiny hairs. These hairs are not on your head or in your nose, however. They are inside our heads. Scientists tell us that we humans have between 50,000 to 60,000 of them in our inner ear. Most sounds we hear begin as air disturbances that produce sound waves. These waves are channeled through the ear canal to hit the eardrum, causing vibrations. This moves tiny bones behind the eardrum, and the vibration is felt in the fluid in the inner ear. The fluid moves tiny hairs that convert the vibrations in the fluid into nerve impulses, which are then transmitted to the brain. Loud noises, over time, can make the hair cells disappear. Once we lose these tiny hairs, our hearing can never be perfect again. So, if you want to save your tiny little hairs, always remember to wear hearing protection when the world around you starts pumping up the volume.

   
How do expandable ear plugs function?

Comparison Of Ear Plugs

Regardless of where you work, having proper hearing protection is essential. The two most common types of ear plugs are the premolded and expandable ear plugs.

Premolded ear plugs can be purchased in almost any drug store. They are made of plastic or rubber material, and cannot be molded to fit into your ear. Therefore, the premolded ear plugs should be purchased in a particular size that is right for you. The benefit of buying a premolded ear plug is the ability to wash and reuse them again.

An expandable plug will take the shape of the ear canal it is placed into. It is commonly made of foam material, which can be flattened and shaped for easy insertion. Therefore, the major benefit of expandable ear plugs is the ability of the foam material to fit snugly into the ear. However, these types of ear plugs are not reusable.

   
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Patricia Walters-Fischer