Millions of workers are exposed to hearing hazards every year, and even though OSHA regulations and NIOSH recommendations in the U.S. specify hearing protection, occupational hearing loss is still the number one reported worker illness in manufacturing. Moreover, noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and irreversible, but avoidable with the help of proper hearing protection and other measures. Here we will explore some hearing protection devices (HPD) and other steps that can be taken to help protect workers’ hearing in a wide variety of industries.
When workers are exposed to loud noise, earplugs can offer low-cost, effective hearing protection. These are soft foam or elastic plugs worn inside the ear canal to help block out hazardous sounds. Earplugs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes so there are many choices for workers. With the right fit and insertion techniques, earplugs can provide adequate protection for many types of noisy situations.
Disposable foam earplugs are the most widely used type of HPD. The soft foam is rolled into a tightly compressed cylinder then inserted into the ear so that it conforms to the unique shape of ear canal. They are relatively low price per pair and can result in a high noise reduction when worn correctly.
Push-to-Fit earplugs are soft foam tips with a flexible stem where there is no need to roll down the foam tips before inserting into the ears. This works well for employees who have difficulty rolling and inserting disposable foam earplugs and can even be inserted when hands are dirty or when wearing gloves.
Reusable earplugs are washable with flexible, elastic flanges attached to a stem and can be reused multiple times and therefore replaced less, potentially resulting in lower long-term cost. The elastic material doesn’t absorb moisture and works well in wet conditions or when employees perspire heavily.
Also, metal detectable earplugs have a stainless steel bead encased in the earplug. Popular in food manufacturing industries when contamination prevention is critical, this type of HPD is available in a variety of comfortable earplug styles to meet most wearer preferences and help address a variety of environmental noise hazards.
One of the easiest hearing protectors to wear, earmuffs can quickly be adjusted to provide a snug and reliable fit for a wide range of ear and head sizes. Since earmuffs can be less complicated to put on correctly, most users can intuitively learn to wear them. Additionally, earmuffs allow workers to easily put their hearing protection on and take it off throughout the day as needed.
Earmuffs can be reused time and again, and, if properly cleaned, maintained, and stored, can typically be worn up to two or three years. Also, given the size, they are harder to lose than other hearing protectors. This means you may not need to replace earmuffs as often as other types of hearing protectors. Additionally, the easier and more comfortable personal protection equipment is, the more likely employees may be to wear it. Moreover, because earmuffs are can be easier to see from a distance, it may also be easy to monitor that workers are wearing hearing protection.
Article originally appeared on Occupational Health and Safety.
Dr. Jon Ashby is a University professor & who frequently presents clinical instruction and research at numerous professional conferences and conventions.