Ear and hearing protection is important in many different settings, both indoor and outdoor. For example, when using power tools on a construction site, ear protection can help reduce the risk of hearing loss. Indoor settings where ear protection is important include workshops, mines, and factories. In these settings, loud noises can be common and cause damage to the ear drums over time.
What is Hearing Protection?
Hearing protection is any device used or measure taken to defend ears from excessive noise. Ear plugs and ear muffs are the two most common types of hearing protection. They both work by blocking out noise. Ear plugs fit inside the ear canal, while ear muffs cover the entire ear. Both types come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different ears.
Hearing protection, also known as hearing protectors, should be worn whenever you are around loud noises. This includes construction sites, in the mines, while operating power tools, or working with loud vehicles. Doing so helps to protect you and your ears from sounds that are too loud and might otherwise damage your hearing.
Why Should You Wear Hearing Protectors?
Hearing protectors are for people who are regularly exposed to loud noises and don’t want to experience hearing loss. Loud noises can cause permanent damage to the ears, leading to pain and hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is a common problem, and it can happen overtime through continuous exposure to loud noises, or all at once due to a single exposure. If you don’t take steps to protect your ears, you could end up with permanent hearing loss. Construction workers, factory workers, miners, and mechanics are just a few of the many people who can benefit from using these devices.
Hearing protectors work by blocking out the sound of loud noises. This prevents the noise from reaching the inner ear, where it can cause damage. There are a variety of different types of ear plugs and ear muffs available, so it is important to find the type that best suits your needs.
Workplace Noise Exposure and Hearing Protectors
Occupational health and safety legislation and the relevant Australian standards have a fair bit to say about the use of hearing PPE in workplaces where staff would experience a large exposure to noise. Many employers are expected to provide their staff with a certain level of protection, depending on the level of noise. This protection can arise from the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), like earplugs and earmuffs, as well as the implementation of occupational noise management strategies.
Workplace health and safety requires that workers must wear personal hearing protectors at all times when exposed to hazardous noise levels, even for a short while. Managers and supervisors have a responsibility to the workers under their care by ensuring they have adequate protection based on the noise level of the workplace.
How to Select the Right Hearing Protectors
There are Australian Standards in place to help decision makers select adequate hearing protectors for those within their organisation. When selecting hearing protectors, ensure that they are tested and approved in line with the requirements of the Australian Standard AS/NZ 1270:2002: Acoustics – Hearing protectors. The test results of a given piece of hearing PPE under this standard can be found on its packaging. Additionally, the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1269.3:2005 Occupational noise management – hearing protector program lays out the means by which hearing protectors are required to be selected and maintained.
Several factors influence what class of hearing protection is deemed appropriate. Amongst the most important are the workers’ 8-hour TWA exposure, measured in decibels, and the target 8-hour TWA exposure being less than 85 dba.
It is important that you do not provide hearing protection that either over-protects or under-protects. Over-protection runs the risk of leaving workers unable to hear what they should be able to in order to best fulfil their duties, which can result in serious injury or death. A common threshold used to determine whether or not a worker is over-protected is whether their hearing protection brings noise levels down to beneath 70-75 dba. Under-protection occurs when workers are wearing personal protection equipment that does not bring sound levels into the acceptable range. Being under-protected puts workers at risk of permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, or even deafness.
Types of Hearing Protection Devices
The two major types of hearing protectors are earplugs and earmuffs. Both of these come in a variety of options, though both work to protect people by reducing the noise exposure level they experience. Keep in mind that is important that you ensure the product you choose provides the right class of protection.
There are several reasons why you may be inclined to choose earplugs over earmuffs. Firstly, they tend to offer a higher degree of protection. Earplugs fit directly into the ear canal, they are more able to dampen sound in the ear. This, coupled with the fact that they are small, light, and therefore easy to carry, makes them an especially effective and convenient form of hearing protection. There are both disposable and reusable earplugs, depending on the needs of the individual. Most disposable varieties are foam earplugs, whereas reusable ones can be found in other materials like silicone. Many reusable earplugs have accessories that make them easier to keep on you when not in use, such as those that are corded and those that have headbands.
Earmuffs are versatile in their own way. While not as small and easily stored on your person as earplugs, earmuffs are easily slipped on and off making them an excellent choice when needing protection for short periods of time. Once over the head and adjusted, it’s easy to be sure that the wearer is protected. Unlike when you wear earplugs, where you must be sure that they are properly inserted and fitted to the ear. Something to be aware of though, is that with prolonged use, the clamping force and the force of the headband can create discomfort. This should be taken into account when making your choice, as in many scenarios it is better to have equipment that is worn constantly, rather than one that will become uncomfortable and be removed for short periods.
What Standards and Legislation Address Hearing PPE?
There are several pieces of legislation and international standards that explore hearing safety and a range of hearing protection strategies. These provide practical recommendations for decision makers in an effort to protect their workers from noise induced hearing loss.
Some of these can be found listed here:
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- AS/NZS 1269:2005 Occupational noise management
- AS/NZS 1270:2002 Acoustics – hearing protectors
- Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work code of practice 2021
Do You Have Any Questions?
At DD Group, people matter to us. That’s why we’re happy to answer any questions you may have about hearing safety and the relevant personal protection equipment. We have teams operating across Australia working tirelessly to support people like you make our country a safer place. You can reach out with your questions by calling us at 1300 003 384 or by completing our contact us form here.
Alternatively, if you’d like to learn more about the kinds of hearing protectors on the market or purchase some for you and your business, you can click here to view our range.