Product Focus: Hearing protection

Trends in ... hearing protection

Ensure adequate protection

Noise-related hearing loss has been one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for more than 25 years, according to OSHA.

“Recent studies of earplug fitting in the workplace indicate that as many as 30-40 percent of workers are obtaining inadequate protection from their earplugs,” said Ted Madison, technical service specialist, personal safety division for St. Paul, MN-based 3M.

Fighting hearing loss

To combat occupational hearing loss, many employers are taking advantage of easy-to-use, portable fit-testing systems to determine which workers are correctly using hearing protection and who may need help.

“The fit-testing method known as Field Microphone in Real-Ear (F-MIRE) allows employers to measure the noise reduction provided by the hearing protector directly and objectively, without the need for the employee to listen or respond to the test signals,” Madison said, adding that this technology takes only seconds to measure noise reduction.

Ashley Gaworski, product line manager, industrial head protection accessories, hearing and communications for Cranberry Township, PA-based MSA, touted advancements in electronic earmuffs. “Electronic muffs contain the latest technology designed to protect against environments with impulse noises,” Gaworski said. “The technology amplifies weak sounds while compressing dangerous noises to a predetermined safe level of 82 dB or lower.” She stated that this allows workers to communicate face-to-face and hear critical sounds and warning signals.

What to avoid

Gaworski noted that a common problem in hearing protection is overprotection. “The maximum possible protection is not always the best defense when it comes to hearing protection,” she said. “Overprotecting can actually increase the danger to a person’s life because this can hinder their ability to hear relevant noises such as warning signals, moving vehicles, other workers, etc.”

To avoid this, Gaworski recommends workers evaluate their environment, understand the noise reduction rating needed in their workplace and keep their hearing protection at a safe level as determined by Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Conversely, Leo Hill, a sales manager for Radians Inc., based in Memphis, TN, warned against under-protecting, stating that workers who use a hearing protection device that is not rated high enough for their environment are, in essence, “slowly losing their hearing.” Hill pointed to comfort as the all-important factor. “If a worker is unwilling to wear [hearing protection], even the best NRR is useless,” he said.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association