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Ear Protection

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Hearing protection equipment is essential for those who work in environments which are prone to high noise levels and frequency as they reduce the risk of temporary and permanent hearing damage. By wearing ear protection in the form of ear plugs and ear muffs correctly, the sound energy which reaches your ear is reduced to an acceptable level.

What The Law Says

Employers are required to comply with the Control of Noise at Work Regulation 2005 which aim to ensure that employees’ hearing is protected from excessive noise at their workplace. You should first begin by trying to reduce it as much as practically possible by other means. These may be through engineering or controls such as segregating activities.

Where hazardous levels of noise remain present after this, Hearing Protective Equipment (HPE) should be used to further reduce the exposure.

When average noise levels are 80 decibels or above, an employer is required to assess the risk to employees and provide relevant information and training. Hearing protection equipment and hearing protection zones must be provided when the daily or weekly average exposure reaches 85 decibels or louder.

As a rule of thumb, when it’s necessary to raise your voice to have a conversation when 2 metres apart, the noise is likely to be 85dB or above.

Assessing Your Needs

If you have a noise problem, you’ll first need a noise risk assessment. Carried out by a competent person, it will identify where the noise risk is and those who are likely to be affected. It will then provide you with an estimate of your employees’ exposure and identify possible control methods.

The estimate is based on the work they do, the ways in which they work, and how it may vary from one day to the next.

A handsaw or lawnmower typically operates at 85dB, and protection would need to be considered for those who operate them continuously. Daily exposure causes moderate to severe hearing loss.

Once you start to reach levels of over 100dB, such as when operating impact wrenches and drills, oxygen torches, and riveting machines, then even brief exposure can cause permanent loss and immediate pain.

Protecting Your Workforce

When you know the average exposure level of your employees, you can then begin to choose hearing protection equipment for them. What you pick must not only be suitable to manage the hazards and associated risks, but also the worker.

The key figure to look for is the SNR (Single Number Rating) value. This is the number of potential decibels the hearing protection will reduce the noise level by when fitted correctly.

The aim is to find a suitable product that brings the noise level down to between 70 and 80 decibels. It’s important to also avoid over protection as this can result in workers not hearing important everyday sounds, such as the fire alarm.

As an example, if the average noise level is 108, then you will require a product with an SNR value of around 35 decibels. This will then reduce the in-ear noise to 73dB, meaning the target has been met.

There is a wide range of choice when it comes to hearing protective equipment. With every user being different, even after you’ve identified the right product for them, you need to ensure they’re adequately and individually protected.

Ear Plugs

Ear Plugs work effectively to literally plug the gap of the ear canal. Foam ear plugs are made from expandable, slow recovery foam which, once rolled down and placed in the ear, expands to give a snug and comfortable fit. Generally disposable, they’re suitable for most work environments. 

Moulded ear plugs are shaped so they fit the ear canal. Comfortable, hygienic and economical, each worker can have a pair of ear plugs which know are for them. 

Either type of ear plug can be bounded or with a cord which allows them to be stored around the neck, and won’t drop to the floor if they fall out the ear. And detectable ear plugs are available with a metal component inside, and which are coloured blue for use in food and beverage manufacturing.

Dispensers are also available for workplaces to allow workers to grab a pair whenever they’re entering a hearing protection environment.

Ear Muffs

However, many people have trouble fitting ear plugs, have dirty hands, or work in environments which don’t suit. Ear muffs are suitable for most work environments too, create a seal around the ear to block out noise, and have solid rigid cups with soft cushions for protection and comfort.

There are even ear muffs which offer a communication solution. This can be to allow workers to still chat whilst wearing their hearing protective equipment, or to listen to audio as they work.