Product Focus: Hearing protection

Trends in ... hearing protection

Workers: Don’t limit your ability to hear

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Approximately 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise on the job every year, according to OSHA. Damaging noise can result in noise-induced hearing loss – something that OSHA notes “limits your ability to hear high-frequency sounds and understand speech, which seriously impairs your ability to communicate.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Brad Witt, director of hearing conservation at Smithfield, RI-based Honeywell Safety Products, says that although occupational hearing loss is “painless, progressive and permanent,” it’s also preventable. Here, industry insiders explain what’s new in hearing protection and why it’s so important that workers know not to remove their hearing PPE while on the job.

Innovations

The need to be constantly connected is driving new technological advancements in hearing protection, according to Julie Steding, marketing manager for Portland, OR-based Sonetics Corp. “Users want to be able to communicate, listen to music or a podcast, and maintain situational awareness while still enjoying protection from dangerous noise levels,” Steding said. “Active noise-cancelling technology, Bluetooth integration, and methods of coexisting with mobile devices and two-way radios are growing in popularity.”

Witt spoke similarly. “The mantra of the past assumed that higher attenuation was always better,” he said. However, he noted that a worker who is isolated from warning signals, equipment sounds and other means of communication is an incident waiting to happen. “Technology integrated into the earplug or earmuff (like Bluetooth link, speech enhancement or impact noise reduction) provide the worker with situational awareness and communication,” Witt said.

Misuse

A common misuse of hearing protection is when a worker removes his or her protection – even if only for a minute or two. “They think a few minutes without protection isn’t a big deal,” Witt said, before explaining that in hazardous noise conditions, smalls intervals of no protection will negate long periods of adequate protection. “Fifteen minutes of ‘cheating’ out of an eight-hour workday can easily decrease protection levels by one-half for the entire workday.”

His solution? Be diligent about wearing hearing protection 100 percent of the time, and use the technologies mentioned above.

Keep in mind

Under- and over-protection is the most important thing that workers should be concerned about when using earplugs, said Nancy Sabin, product manager, above the neck, for Latham, NY-based Protective Industrial Products Inc. Sabin noted that underprotection can occur when a worker’s earplugs are improperly fitted or not worn at all. “Overprotection can occur if wearers are in an environment where they need to communicate, but are not able to do so because they can’t hear other workers who are in close proximity,” Sabin said. “In this situation, the wearer may remove the hearing protector and cause an injury by not having any protection at all.” Sabin recommends educating workers about the correct products to use – and how to use them – to correct both under- and over-protection.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

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Instruments and monitors

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