When you’re working in noisy environments, or even if you’re just looking for some peace and quiet, then ear plugs and ear muffs are exactly what you need.
It’s important to protect your hearing as it’s one of the vital senses which we rely on in our everyday lives. When exposed to constant and/or loud noise, then you risk damaging your hearing temporarily, or even permanently.
We’ve all been to concerts and walked out when it’s finished with ringing in our ears. Well, imagine the effect on your hearing when working with loud machinery day in, day out. Ear protection is vital in these circumstances, and it needs to be just right.
Ear Defenders or Ear Plugs?
Largely, this is due to personal preference. It’s the same as asking whether you prefer listening to music through earphones or headphones. Some people don’t like having things pushed in their ears, while others don’t like having the cups over their ears.
Generally, it’s whatever is best for the person wearing them and which is best for the job at hand.
Ear plugs are generally disposable and are made of an expandable, slow-recovery foam. To insert, you roll it between your thumb and finger, then place it in your ear where it will expand to plug the gap, whilst providing a snug and comfortable fit. Blue earplugs with a metal component are available for use in the food industry, and can feature a cord which joins them together to make them harder to lose.
Ear defenders are reusable and have cushioned cups which fit nicely over the ear to create a seal between it and skin. This reduces the noise levels, and they have a robust design which means they can survive the tough demands of working on site.
Do I Need Hearing Protection?
A fire risk assessment carried out by a competent person is the best way of identifying the risks, who is affected, and to then identify control methods.
The law requires employers to ensure that the hearing of their employees is protected from excessive noise under the Control of Noise at Work Regulation 2005. The first course of action to take is to reduce the noise levels as much as practically possible, whether that’s through segregating activities or engineering efforts.
When these levels still remain dangerously high, then Hearing Protective Equipment (HPE) is needed to reduce the exposure to individuals.
When the daily or weekly average is 85 decibels and louder, then hearing protection equipment and zones must be provided. Generally, when it’s necessary to raise your voice to have a conversation when two metres apart, the noise level is likely to be above 85 decibels.
How Much Protection Do I Need?
The purpose of ear plugs and ear muffs is to reduce loud sounds to a safe level which, ideally, is between 70 and 80 decibels. The efficiency of hearing protective equipment is rated using an SNR value which denotes by how much they reduce the sound levels.
For example, a chainsaw can typically produce a sound of around 115 decibels. Therefore, to bring that down to a safe level, you need ear protection with an SNR value of around 35. This would reduce the sound levels to 80 decibels.
You need to be sure that you’re protecting enough, as even daily exposure to sounds such as lawnmowers and handsaws, which typically produce around 85dB, would cause moderate to severe hearing loss in time.
And you need to remain mindful of overprotecting, otherwise the wearer may not hear important everyday sounds such as the fire alarm.
That’s why 70 to 80 decibels is deemed to be the optimum level as it protects hearing without compromise.