Did you know that hearing loss caused by industrial noise in the workplace is permanent and irreversible?
Did you also know that it is also 100% preventable?
A Million Workers In Australia
It has been estimated that over a million workers in Australia are exposed to some form of noise pollution in their work environment.
Often, this noise exposure is at dangerously high levels from machinery, equipment and tools, traffic, and other workplace activities, and can put workers at risk for significant hearing damage.
As a safety manager, you have an enormous responsibility of selecting the right hearing protection for your crew and keeping them safe.
With so many options out there on the market nowadays, selecting the proper hearing protection is not a simple task.
Ear muffs or ear plugs? Disposable ear plugs or custom molded ear plugs? Each type boasts their own advantages and disadvantages.
However, moving beyond the actual type of hearing protection and focusing on the actual benefits they deliver is paramount.
Here are three key factors to consider when choosing the right hearing protection for your staff…
Comfort is king when it comes to having workers comply with wearing hearing protection in dangerous noise environments, especially when some employees have to wear protection for up to eight hours at a time.
What does comfort look like? It means that the employee has the freedom to move around easily at will. It means that the hearing protection is lightweight and subtle.
Most importantly, you want the ear protection to be comfortable and shaped to the anatomy of each ear.
This comfort translates into the workers even forgetting that they are still wearing hearing protection.
Most ear muffs have adjustable straps and soft ear cushions to provide maximum comfort.
However, ear muffs don’t work well in hot climates as the ear muffs can become uncomfortably warm and humid and may even cause rashes.
From disposable to reusable ear plugs, these tend to be easier to wear as they fit comfortably within the ear canal and offer maximum protection for long-term wear.
Despite the comfort factor though, ear plugs tend to be difficult to fit as every ear canal is unique.
Custom ear plugs
These ear plugs appear to be the clear winner when it comes to comfort.
Each ear plug is custom designed for each wearer and for each ear canal, guaranteeing exceptional comfort, fit, and protection.
Being able to communicate with co-workers while wearing hearing protection is important for conveying key information as well as responding to safety instructions and warning signals.
Often times throughout the day, workers will remove their ear protection in order to talk to their colleagues and supervisors.
However, even just removing ear protection for a few minutes every day can lead to progressive hearing loss as the overall effectiveness of this hearing protection is compromised.
It is often assumed that ear protection blocks out all sound.
But there are actually three sound pathways to your inner ear; the ear canal, head bones, and soft tissues in the body. 95% of sound comes in through your ear canal.
The remaining 5% is vibrated through the bones in your head as well as through the soft tissues.
So hearing a quiet conversation between co-workers amidst a noisy work environment while wearing hearing protection is possible.
Because ear muffs do not block the ear canal directly, they cannot effectively stop all sound from entering the ear.
So hearing your co-worker share information with you is feasible.
Also, some manufacturers have designed electronic ear muffs with amplification components to ensure clearer speech while intermittent background noise is suppressed.
Some versions of ear plugs offer speech-friendly attributes. Filter-type ear plugs attenuate noise without shutting out the conversations of your co-workers and supervisors.
Reducing that sense of isolation that is often felt when wearing occlusive ear plugs, these ensure that speech sounds are more understandable and natural.
Custom ear plugs – Some manufacturers of custom ear plugs offer advanced hearing protection by blocking out noise frequencies higher than normal speech but still allowing you to hear co-workers’ voices at the same time.
Hearing protection that is light, portable, and accessible will greatly improve the compliance rate.
Protective devices that are convenient and easy to use will be worn much more often than tedious, bulky forms of ear safety.
Being able to adapt to the worker, the work environment, and other personal protective equipment is also essential for the effective use of ear protection.
For example, ear muffs that attach directly to the hard hat offers a more convenient option that wearing the two separately.
Also, consider that the loss of ear protection can be lessened with the addition of supplemental accessories like clips, cords, and other products.
This not only ensures that employees have their hearing protection with them at all times but also lowers the cost of replacement.
Due to the bulky nature of ear muffs, these can be more difficult and cumbersome to carry around the job site than ear plugs.
However, they do offer the advantage of being easy to spot and locate thus reducing the possibility of becoming lost or misplaced.
Being small and light, ear plugs are easy to carry around the work environment and ensure that workers never go without ear protection.
They easily fit into a pocket and can be taken anywhere.
They are also convenient to use with other forms of personal protective equipment.
However, due to their tiny nature, they are often misplaced.
Custom Ear Plugs
These offer the same advantages as conventional ear plugs and can be easily transported around the work environment.
Taking into account the nature of the work and the extent of noise pollution, choosing the right hearing protection for your staff can make the difference between safe work environments and permanent hearing loss.