2021 Hearing protection

Trends in ... hearing protection

S+H talks to experts in the field

Hearing loss among workers continues to be a serious issue. An estimated 25% of workers are exposed to hazardous noise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite this, 34% of workers say they don’t wear their hearing protection, CDC reports. Safety+Health talked with Matt Block, director of health and safety, and Craig Zurko, vendor development manager, for Romeoville, IL-based Magid to find out how employers can help workers preseve their hearing.

Safety+Health: Any recent innovations in the area of hearing protection?

Matt Block: Manufacturers continue to seek ways to make hearing protection more comfortable and reduce the need for employees to remove it. For example, making plugs easier to insert (push-in style), which reduces contamination and increases the likelihood employees will wear it properly. Manufacturers have also incorporated electronic communications into hearing protection, which allows the wearer to hear ambient sounds and/or radio communications without removing their hearing protection. Active noise-reducing technology has also been used to enhance protection and increase a worker’s ability to use radio communications in very high noise level environments. 

S+H: What do you wish employers and workers better understood about using hearing protection?

Craig Zurko: One size for hearing protection does not fit all. Everyone has a different sized ear canal and even when inserted properly, the amount of protection is going to be different from person to person. You need to provide more than one style of ear protection.

Block: The greatest concern I have is the number of employees wearing hearing protection improperly. From not inserting earplugs as directed by the manufacturer, to even wearing them sideways in the ear (not inserting them into the ear canal at all), improper use of hearing protection could very well be one of the reasons we see hearing loss accounting for 1 in 9 recordable injury cases in manufacturing.

What concerns or questions are customers coming to you about hearing protection?

Block: Many employers are seeking solutions for workplace communications (i.e., radio and/or ambient sound). This can often be a challenge given the number of variables such as the make and model of the radios to making sure the hearing protection is compatible with other PPE (i.e., head/face protection, respiratory, etc.). I also find that some employers get intimidated by the standards and the requirements outlined in the OSHA standard. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.95, covering occupational noise exposure, prints out to 12 pages of information, so this can be especially overwhelming for small employers with limited resources.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

Coming next month:

  • Instruments/lone worker devices
  • Foot protection

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