Employees at Risk of Hearing Loss: Importance of Hearing Protection. "Read Now So You Can Hear Later"

MSA Australia Pty Ltd
Friday, 01 July, 2022

Millions and millions of employees show up, do their job, clock out, and go home, day after day, month after month, year after year. For some 22 million, however, this workday routine harbours a hidden danger: potential for permanent hearing loss from exposure to loud noise in the workplace.

Yet, according to every major regulatory and protection agency from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the World Health Organization (WHO) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), workplace hearing loss is 100 percent preventable.

When workplace noise and vibration occur at a high level or continue for an extended period of time, workers are at higher risk of experiencing temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Among those at high risk include industrial workers who are exposed to potentially damaging, high-noise situations as a result of equipment and processes associated with production, manufacturing, foundries, mills, and shops.

These high-noise situations often result from a combination of machine components and such operations as: crushing, cutting, extrusion, grinding, punching, riveting, and sanding.

While machine work and operations may be all in a day’s work for some employees, the associated noise can result in hearing loss that’s gradual, painless, and progressive.

3 Hearing-related issues caused by workplace noise.

The cost of noise-induced hearing loss is shocking with a wide-reaching and holistic effect on a person’s physical, emotional, and occupational well-being.

Physical: Excessive and/or prolonged noise can destroy inner ear nerve endings, causing permanent damage that affects a person’s ability to perform daily tasks.

Psychological: Noise-induced hearing loss can cause a wide range of mental disorders such as irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, isolation, and hostility.

Occupational: Hearing impairment often interferes with communication, concentration, and job performance; is a contributing factor to workplace accidents and injuries; and may have a negative impact on a worker’s lifetime earning potential.

In this article, we’ll discuss two important points:

  • The importance of hearing protection
  • The types of hearing protection

It begins with a baseline test to establish hearing acuity. This usually happens with new hires, or when an employee transfers to a job with high noise levels.

Additional tests help determine the effectiveness of the company’s hearing protection program, allowing them to make changes if necessary.

It also includes measuring workplace noise levels annually so that appropriate hearing protection procedures or equipment are planned for and implemented. Decibel levels are determined by using a TWA (time weighted average) method.

Hearing tests alone won’t alleviate the problem. But they can help determine the controls and PPE that help prevent this debilitating occupational hazard.

Some dangerous noise levels can be engineered out. Engineering controls can prove an effective line of defence. They include physical measures such as redesigning equipment or constructing barriers to block the noise. Unfortunately, not every noise hazard can be eliminated that way.

In those cases, personal protective equipment for safeguarding hearing becomes essential.

Hearing protection devices (HPDs) must be properly selected, worn, and maintained.

HPDs aren’t one-size-fits-all by any means. Each worker is different, as well as the workplace environments.

Choosing the right HPD for the job is based on several factors:

  • Decibel level of the work area to determine the NRR (noise reduction rating) of the device used, also called attenuation levels
  • Worker comfort
  • The ability of the worker to use and maintain the HPD on his/her own (the product should be simple to use and unobtrusive)
  • Other options such as enhanced worker-to-worker communication

Monitoring and recording work areas help determine the suitable HPDs for the area. And the annual monitoring informs the employer when a change in process affects their hearing conservation program.

Of course, hearing protection that isn’t worn isn’t effective. Worker comfort has much to do with how often HPDs are used.

In a report published by US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, researchers found a link between comfort and the likelihood of consistent and correct HPD use.

The study concluded that “hearing protection must be selected with as much attention to comfort, convenience, and communication as to attenuation characteristics.”

In other words, hearing protection that’s comfortable and easy to use is more likely to be used. If not… it could be a roll of the dice.

The types of hearing protection available

The two basic types of hearing protection devices are earplugs and earmuffs.

Earplugs are inexpensive and relatively simple. Made of soft foam or silicone, they simply insert into the ear canal. However, users should be trained in properly placing them.

For some users, they may take time getting used to.

Foam plugs are normally discarded after a single use. Silicone plugs may be used multiple times as long as they’re cleaned and disinfected.

They must also be inspected frequently for damage or wear. If damaged, discard them.

Earmuffs are pricier, but have benefits that offset the cost. Training is minimal. Most people already use headsets and headphones for music and other activities. That familiarity makes earmuffs a natural fit.

They can also prove more effective in high-noise environments where extended use is necessary. And they’re more visible, making it easier to monitor their use.

Earmuff HPDs have a much longer lifecycle and many parts, such as the foam cushions and inserts, are replaceable. They can be purchased with headbands for over the head applications.

Many models can be attached to a worker’s hard hat. When not needed, they can be swung out of the way.

A major benefit to hard hat mounted earmuffs is that they’re always with the worker. This often leads to increased HPD use, a major factor in hearing protection.

The MSA V-Gard® Cap-Mounted Hearing Protection Line provides enhanced comfort, top-of-the-line performance, and upgraded style and fit.

Why MSA V-GARD Cap Mounted Hearing Protection?

For industrial workers, the V-Gard Cap-Mounted Hearing Protection Line delivers enhanced comfort and top-of-the-line performance with upgrades in fit and style—all without compromising the quality expected from the legendary V-Gard brand. Designed to work with MSA’s industry-leading hard hats and accessories, the new earmuff line offers enhanced comfort while providing the performance level and protection needed to get the job done.

  • Superior performance
  • Easy integration
  • Enhanced comfort
  • Modern style

Superior Performance

  • Offers the highest attenuation for a cap-mounted earmuff on the market.
  • Custom MSA sealing rings allow for optimal NRR performance.
  • Works with slotted MSA industrial cap-style hard hats.
  • Works with existing MSA visors and frames for seamless integration into your safety program.

Enhanced Comfort and Integration

  • Improved sealing ring and adapters optimize pressure on the ears for all-day comfort.
  • Foam-injected ear pads cushion the outer ears to allow for soft points of contact.
  • Vertical adjustment allows for custom fit.
  • Recessed interior foam does not touch user’s ear while in use.
  • When not in use, earmuffs may be stowed in “parking” position, ready for when you need them.

Modern Style

  • Includes the next generation “V” design from the iconic V-Gard.
  • Incorporates red, yellow, and green color-coding on the backplate and front logo to easily identify level of attenuation.
  • Upgraded fork design provides a sleek look and modernized feel.
  • Matte material for both cup and ear pads decreases look of wear and tear.

Final thoughts on hearing conservation

There’s no getting around it. To be effective in helping prevent workplace-related hearing loss in noisy environments, HPDs must be worn constantly when noise levels are high. That means they must be comfortable enough for workers to wear them for as long as necessary. The fact is, if HPDs are removed for even a brief period of time, hearing protection and attenuation are dramatically reduced.

Learn more about MSA’s hearing protection line on our website.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/jumlongch

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