Trends in ... hearing protection
‘Every ear canal is different’
When it comes to hearing protection, “the technology itself hasn’t really changed in over 30 years,” said Matt Block, director of health and safety services for Magid. “We’re still using the same materials – polyurethane and PVC foams, PVC, silicone, etc. Where we have improved is on the protection level afforded the wearer, because the industry has adapted technology to measure performance for each individual through new fit testing methods.”
Garry G. Gordon, audiologist for E.A.R. Inc., added: “Fit checking is not mandatory but is embraced by OSHA as a procedure that verifies attenuation and is helpful when educating the proper procedures for installing hearing protection.”
Along with Block and Gordon, Safety+Health spoke with Craig Zurko, vendor development manager at Magid; Zachary Richman, director of product marketing – personal protective equipment at Milwaukee Tool; and Marc Kirsch, product marketing manager for Honeywell PPE, to learn more about the latest developments in hearing protection.
Recent product innovations
“Hearing loss is being recognized as one of the most common work-related injuries in the United States,” Richman said. “Due to this situational awareness, there has been a lot of innovation around active hearing protection, especially around sound compression and the incorporation of communication.”
Gordon echoed that: “Of particular note recently has been the focus on providing protection devices that improve speech intelligibility with radio communications, in addition to situational awareness.”
Other innovations the experts mentioned are hearing protection that focuses on all-day comfort, PPE compatibility, custom fit and easy dispensing.
“And finally we are beginning to foresee products that meet OSHA standards for people who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids,” Gordon said. “Electronic earmuffs and electronic earplugs that can work with communication systems and Bluetooth are becoming a popular option.”
A better understanding
“The No. 1 thing workers and employees alike should understand is that every worker’s ears are unique,” Kirsch said. “Earplugs are the only piece of PPE worn inside the body, which makes fit and comfort a very personal thing.”
Zurko added, “Every ear canal is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s crucial to implement fit testing and for employees to understand the right insertion methods for the type of hearing protection they’re using. That requires training and, ideally, posted instructions for proper insertion.”
And, as always, “The most effective hearing protector is one that is worn properly and consistently,” Kirsch said.
Words of advice
“The most significant concern we’re seeing around hearing protection is how to navigate finding the right solution for their specific application,” Richman said. “We often have users say, ‘This is what I was given,’ or that hearing protection is lower on the priority list of protection because it is ‘just a quick job, it will be fine.’ However, users should refer to and utilize the sound meter to measure the exposure and find the appropriate hearing protection.”
He went on to suggest that employers and workers use one of the free mobile apps to help monitor noise exposure in real time.
At Honeywell, Kirsch said, “customers are coming to us and asking how to help employees with noncompliance. There are instances where workers do not want to wear hearing protection.”
How does he respond? “We stress the need for education on the long-lasting effects of hearing loss, which can have a severe impact on quality of life,” Kirsch said. “Hearing loss from the workplace is usually painless and progresses over time, but the damage is permanent. Asking a simple question to an employee like, ‘What is your favorite sound?’ can help make it resonate.”
Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association
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