Choosing the right hearing protection for the job

ProChoice Safety Gear

Thursday, 08 March, 2018



Choosing the right hearing protection for the job

Choosing the right type of PPE is critical for protecting ears in a noisy workplace.

Hearing loss due to industrial noise such as machinery, tools and traffic is one of the most widespread yet preventable workplace injuries.

Hearing damage is irreversible and seriously affects quality of life, contributing to dementia, an increased risk of heart disease, stress, hypertension, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and psychiatric disorders.

It can also contribute to other workplace safety problems, such as a lack of awareness and reduced concentration. It also leads to around 3400 successful workers compensation claims each year.

The good news is that hearing damage is entirely preventable with appropriate PPE. Correctly designed and fitted ear protection will keep industrial noise well below harmful levels. However, it is important to choose the appropriate hearing protection; whether that is earmuffs or earplugs, or whether the PPE is disposable or re-usable.

The ‘safe noise threshold’ and choosing the right level of protection

Eighty-five decibels (85 dB) is considered the ‘safe noise threshold’ and the level at which appropriate hearing protection MUST be worn. ‘Appropriate’ is determined by the level of noise (see Figure 1) and the required level of workplace communications.

Too much hearing protection may increase workplace dangers by unnecessarily blocking critical communications or noise — a common reason why workers choose not to use any hearing protection at all.

Conversely, underprotection will lead to hearing damage, which is compounding as it leads to greater difficulty communicating while wearing hearing protection and thus a greater reluctance to wear it.

Hearing protection testing and standards

Australian Standards AS/NZS 1270:2002 rates hearing protection in five classes, with Class 1 being the lowest level of protection and Class 5 being the highest.

The system is based on the sound level conversion (SLC80) rating, which is the difference between the sound level of the environment in which the hearing protection is worn and the sound level reaching the wearer’s ears. This is converted to a recommended noise range.

Class SLC80dB Recommended noise range (dB)
1 10–13 Less than 90
2 14–17 90–95
3 18–21 95–100
4 22–25 100–105
5 26–36 105–140

Figure 1.

Other hearing protection choice factors

As well as noise volume and communication factors, other considerations should include the hearing protection’s fit and comfort; its health and hygiene; its compatibility with other PPE such as hard hats; and its suitability for the worker, work environment and task.

Given the variables, ProChoice Safety Gear has conducted extensive research and development which has led to a range of styles and designs:

Earmuffs

Suppress unwanted noise by completely covering the outer ear. Styles are available with a variety of features, from adjustable headbands to hard hat attachments, to suit individual needs.

Disposable earplugs

Made from PU foam and designed to be compressed and then inserted into the ear canal, where they expand and seal against noise. These are economical, designed for single use and available in uncorded and corded options.

Re-usable earplugs

Premoulded from washable silicone to fit snugly. Corded and uncorded options are supplied in a handy resealable plastic case and can be re-used.

Banded earplugs

A convenient, easily inserted option for those who are constantly in and out of noisy areas.

Metal-detectable earplugs

Each plug contains a metal tab and a metalised cord that can be detected if they accidentally fall into processing lines.

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