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Safety Tips | Personal protective equipment

Choosing the correct hearing protection

July 1, 2011

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Work-related hearing loss is the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury, according to NIOSH. An estimated 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job, with the most at-risk industries being agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing and utilities, transportation, and military. 

Some form of hearing protection should be worn when workers are in an area where the sound level exceeds 90 decibels.

NIOSH outlines and explains the basic types of hearing protection available:

Expandable foam plugs – These are made of formable foam that expands to fit your ear canal. Roll the plug between your hands or fingers to create a small cylinder to insert halfway into the ear canal.

Pre-molded reusable plugs – Most pre-molded plugs are made of silicone, plastic or rubber and come either as “one-size-fits-all” or in various sizes. When properly fitted, the plug should block the canal but not feel uncomfortable. Reach over your head with one hand to lift your ear up while inserting the plug with the other hand.

Canal caps – These are earplugs on a metal or plastic band, offering employees the benefit of hanging the plugs around the neck when they are unneeded. Some workers find the band of the canal caps uncomfortable, and not all tips adequately block all noise.

Earmuffs – Earmuffs completely cover the outer ear to block out noise. Some are equipped with electronic devices to help workers communicate while wearing the earmuffs. Some find earmuffs too hot and heavy, however, and heavy beards, sideburns or glasses can break the seal between the earmuff and ear, making plugs more effective.

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