Are you Wearing Enough Hearing Protection?

Are you wearing enough hearing protection? When one layer isn't enough.

To comply with OSHA occupational noise exposure standards, companies are required to limit the amount of noise any one worker is exposed to on the job. For most applications, a single layer of hearing protection will be sufficient. However, double hearing protection may be necessary under certain conditions.

When is Double Hearing Protection Required?

The first step is to know the noise levels your employees encounter each day. Workplace noise measurements are dependent on the specifics of your workplace. Generally, an employee will wear a dosimeter during their shift. The dosimeter measures noise exposure and if you find workers are exposed to an average above 85 decibels (dB) over eight hours, then double hearing protection may be useful along with a required hearing conservation program.

When in an environment above 100 dB, OSHA rules encourage the use of double hearing protection. Some industry specific requirements have a lower standard, requiring double protection above 105 dBa, but OSHA’s guidelines are safest. To comply with all regulations, it best to provide double hearing protection when workplace noise levels exceed 100 dBa in an 8 hour weighted average.

Double Hearing Protection provides a 4 to 8 dB boost, on top of the normal parameters of the ear muffs, for example. Providing ear plugs with ear muffs can reduce noise an additional 85% which leads to a significant reduction in noise-related injuries. The most common form of double hearing protection is the use of ear plugs with ear muffs.

Do Your Workers Have Enough Hearing Protection?

For any noise reduction device (earplugs, ear muffs), a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is provided. Peltor Optime 105 Headband Ear Muffs, for example, have an NRR rating of 30.

To determine how NRR rating affect dB, take the NRR number subtract 7 and divide that number by 2.

In our example: (30 – 7) / 2 = 11.5

A worker wearing Peltor Ear Muffs with a 30 NRR will experience an 11.5 dBa reduction in noise. If your workers are exposed to 100 dBa, then with the earmuffs they will be exposed to 88.5 dBa.

If your workplace requires more, then double protection through 3M Classic Ear Plugs will provide an additional 5 dB of protection. By themselves, 3M earplugs have an NRR rating of 29, but when doubled with Peltor Ear Muffs, an additional 5 dB is added to the highest rating.

In a workplace with an 8 hour average of 100 dB, let us look at a worker wearing both 3M Ear Plugs and Peltor Ear Muffs:

Peltor Ear Muffs: 30 NRR

3M Ear Plugs: 29 NRR

Double Protection: +5 NRR

Total Protection: 35 NRR

Now, let’s calculate the dB reduction of our dual protected worker with 35 NRR.

dB reduction = (35 – 7) / 2 = 14

A worker in a setting with 100 dB with dual protection will now experience 86 dB over eight hours. This dual protection complies with OSHA’s regulations. Both you and your workers are protected.

Special Cases: When OSHA Requires More Protection

For most workspaces, noise must be below 90 dB over eight hours. However, if your worker experienced STS hearing loss, then more is necessary. To determine if your employee suffered a Standard Threshold Shift (STS), answer 3 questions:

  1. Has your employee suffered a 10dB loss in one or both ears?
  2. Is your employee’s overall hearing level at 25dB?
  3. Is your employees hearing loss work-related?
    1. Under OSHA Guidelines, hearing loss cases assume that the loss occurred at work. The burden of proof lies with employers to prove otherwise.
    2. Hearing loss aggravated by a work environment classifies as work-related hearing loss.

If you answered yes to each question above then more hearing protection is required for that employee. An additional 5 dB of protection will put you in compliance and protect your employees from further hearing loss. What Noise Exposure is Ideal?

Just as too little noise exposure is dangerous, so too is the opposite. Excessive noise reduction can cause accidents related to an inability to hear colleagues, alarms, and a general lack of awareness. If a worker needs to remove hearing protection to listen to their equipment or converse with a colleague, then hearing protection may be excessive.

Ideally, aim to reduce noise to bring exposure down to 75 – 85 dB. The CDC recommends that a single layer of ear protection be used for workplaces with noise levels below 100 dB. Above 100 dB, a dual protection layer may be required to reach the ideal workplace noise exposure.

Should You Use Ear Plugs or Ear Muffs?

The quirks of your workplace will determine which hearing protector is best. Only choose hearing protection that allows employees to wear them properly and comfortably for extended periods of time. Here are the main differences:

Ear Muffs

  • May interfere with other safety equipment (glasses, hard hat, respirator)
    • Low profile headbands are designed to prevent interference with hard hats
  • Easier to remove and replace
    • Best for intermittent noise exposure
  • Good for dirty environments
  • Uncomfortable in hot and excessively cold climates

Ear Plugs

  • Comfortable
  • Best for continuous noise exposure
  • Require clean hands to be inserted properly
  • Good for tight spaces
  • Good for extreme temperatures

Ear plugs are the choice of most employees. However, make sure to properly train them on how to insert ear plugs. Below you will find an image (from left to right) of a badly-inserted earplug, a semi-inserted earplug, and a properly-fit earplug.

If earplugs cannot be inserted properly, then earmuffs should be used.

In the End, It Does Really Matter

For most workspaces, a single layer of properly fitting ear muffs or ear plugs will be sufficient to reach the ideal 75-85 dB of noise exposure. Double hearing protection is recommended for employees working in noise levels above 100 dB over an eight hour period. Ear plugs and ear muffs are the most common form of dual protection, providing an additional 5 dB of protection.

Workplace noise levels only have to be re-evaluated when noise exposure increases beyond what your current protection allows. Annual training should include information on the types of protection provided, fit, and use.

The 5 OSHA Workplace Hazards

Under the right circumstances, virtually anything could become hazardous in the workplace. With sensible employee behavior and workplace conditions, however, the workplace hazards that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warn against fall into just five main categories. We’ll review them below, and provide suggestions for mitigating dangers for each.

#1: Safety Hazards

(slips, trips and falls, faulty
equipment, etc.)

Safety risks refer to the conditions or substances found in the work environment which can pose danger of injuries. From falling objects to wet floors, these seemingly innocuous everyday risks have the potential to cause serious bodily harm. To minimize these hazards, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Never leave machinery unattended while in use
  2. Practice safety while working from heights
  3. Mandate the use of safety gear and safety apparel, like hardhats, and safety glasses
  4. Have your electrical wiring inspected regularly
  5. Provide the proper signage (like wet floor signs) to notify employees of spills, and clean them up promptly

Safety Hazards include:

  • Spills on floors or tripping hazards,
    such as blocked aisles or cords
    running across the floor
  • Working from heights, including
    ladders, scaffolds, roofs, or any
    raised work area
  • Unguarded machinery and moving
    machinery parts; guards removed or
    moving parts that a worker can
    accidentally touch
  • Electrical hazards like frayed cords,
    missing ground pins, improper
    wiring
  • Confined spaces
  • Machinery-related hazards
    (lockout/tagout, boiler safety,
    forklifts, etc.)

#2: Biological Hazards

(mold, insects/pests,
communicable diseases, etc.)

These types of hazards tend to be exclusive to specific work environments. Particularly, anyone who works with infectious plants, people, or animals may be regularly exposed to biological hazards. Examples of occupations could include laboratory workers, daycare assistants, and personnel in hospitals, doctor’s offices, or nursing homes.

Coming into contact with substances like blood and other bodily fluids, animal droppings, bacteria and viruses, or fungi can put an individual at risk of becoming ill. To minimize these risks, it’s essential that you establish a protocol for handling biohazards and potentially infectious material. Additionally, make sure necessary supplies like disposable gloves are easily accessible. Sorbents can be used to clean up bio-hazards.  These powerful granules absorb the liquid, making them easy to clean-up.

Types of things you may be exposed to
include:

  • Blood and other body fluids
  • Fungi/mold
  • Bacteria and viruses
  • Plants
  • Insect bites
  • Animal and bird droppings

#3: Physical Hazards

(noise, temperature extremes,
radiation, etc.)

Physical hazards are environmental factors which can cause injury without direct contact. For instance, radiation, temperature extremes, consistent loudness, and prolonged exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays all fall into this category. These are commonly considered the most difficult to detect, because signs don’t always present themselves right away.Like the other hazards listed here, reducing your employees’ risk of being exposed to physical hazards comes down to providing protection.

Hearing protection, for instance, should be considered mandatory for any individuals working around loud machinery. In settings where MEFs and microwaves are routinely emitted, employers must develop practices their teams can follow to limit exposure.

Physical Hazards include:

  • Radiation: including ionizing, nonionizing
    (EMF’s, microwaves,
    radiowaves, etc.)
  • High exposure to sunlight/ultraviolet
    rays
  • Temperature extremes – hot and cold
  • Constant loud noise

#4: Ergonomic Hazards

(repetition, lifting, awkward
postures, etc.)

Like physical hazards, ergonomic hazards may develop over time. Back strain and similar musculoskeletal disorders are often attributed to repetitive workplace motions. Even individuals who work desk jobs aren’t immune to suffering from back pain.

To combat ergonomic hazards, employers can offer training from specialists to help employees understand the importance of proper lifting techniques and posture. More and more employers are also exploring standing desk options to prevent associates from experiencing health complications associated with prolonged sitting.

Ergonomic Hazards include:

  • Improperly adjusted workstations and
    chairs
  • Frequent lifting
  • Poor posture
  • Awkward movements, especially if
    they are repetitive
  • Repeating the same movements over
    and over
  • Having to use too much force,
    especially if you have to do it
    frequently
  • Vibration

#5: Chemical/Dust Hazards

(cleaning products, pesticides,
asbestos, etc.)

Some chemicals are naturally more potent than others. While certain types are only dangerous when ingested or a person comes into direct contact with them, others are dangerous when simply inhaled. If your workforce uses chemicals regularly, you can keep employees safe by:

  1. Clearly labeling all chemicals
  2. Developing a protocol for handling chemicals
  3. Providing employees with the proper safety gear (respirators and gloves, for instance) to wear while in the presence of chemicals

Beware of:

  • Liquids like cleaning products, paints,
    acids, solvents – ESPECIALLY if
    chemicals are in an unlabeled
    container!
  • Vapors and fumes that come from
    welding or exposure to solvents
  • Gases like acetylene, propane, carbon
    monoxide and helium
  • Flammable materials like gasoline,
    solvents, and explosive chemicals.
  • Pesticides

No matter which types of hazards your workplace has, Harmony has all of the safety gear and products your team needs to stay healthy and injury-free. Browse through their supplies online now, or contact a product specialist to learn more.

Why Employees Don’t Wear Hearing Protection

why employees dont wear hearing protection

Reasons Employees Don’t Wear Hearing Protection

Believe it or not, our hearing ability is a huge investment when it comes to work. That’s why it’s essential to take good care of our ear health while in the work field as much as possible.

 
There are several work environments that expose employees to noise levels that are actually unsafe and could promote hearing-loss such as places like construction sites or steel mills. It is vital for workers to keep a sound hearing ability as it is a crucial factor within the work environment, e.g. with regards to communication.

 
Without the use of proper hearing protection devices (HPD), workers may not be able to protect themselves from occupational noise exposure and thus it might be the case for them to acquire hearing impairment, or worse, hearing loss. This could also be the grounds for reduced productivity of workers in the field.

 
Unfortunately, most workers don’t wear HPD because of a number of reasons which affect their consideration to do so. Here they are:

Reason 1: Comfort Level

EAR MUFFS W/ ADJUSTABLE HEADBAND

Wearing HPD for some workers depend on how they actually ‘feel’ while wearing them. The comfort level of any wearable device greatly matters. Wearing HPD that are built and designed with very little consideration to a wearer’s ease may in fact be the grounds of some workers to NOT wear them at all.

 
The solution for this Hearing Protection Device dilemma is to actually give a good amount of time to actually canvass and research about which types of HPD prefer, both ease and functionality. After all, a comfortable worker is a productive one.

Reason 2: Supply vs. Demand

3M Foam Corded Ear Plugs

Sometimes, certain work environments lack in supply of hearing protection devices, so that not all of the workers get to wear one. Because of such a HPD deficit, some employees tend to work with no aid of HPD in an excessively noisy environment, e.g. construction sites and airport fields, to name a few.

 

In other cases, workers tend to go from one area to another. That’s why areas which are prone to high levels of noise should have hearing protection available for roaming workers at all times.

Reason 3: Hearing Conservation Training

E-A-R Swerve Banded Hearing Protector

Companies that operate in environments with extreme noise levels should consider organizing Hearing Conservation Training for their workforce. Not only is it crucial for firms to consider the wellness of their workers but it can also help their employees work productively.

 
Also, promoting initial training can help workers gain knowledge on the importance of HPD usage to their own benefit as well as promote the habit of wearing HPD at work.

Reason 4: Noise Levels in an Environment

Thunder T3 Noise Ear Muffs

Of course, the demand on the use of hearing protection in the work field depends on the nature of work. More specifically, hearing protection device usage considers the levels of noise that are being produced in the environment plus the length of time that workers are exposed to such noise.

 
Simply put, if you work in an ordinary office environment then you would not need earplugs or earmuffs, since such environment has very little probability of exposure to extreme noise. The only earplugs you’ll be needing in an office are earphones so you can stay upbeat and groovy while at work.

 
On the contrary, work environments that are exposed to tremendous noise levels should always consider HPD for workers, e.g. power drills that register 98 decibels (dB) which could cause hearing damage in a matter of 30 minutes.

 
To sum it up, in working environments with noise level ranging from 85 dB (the “Action” level) and up, workers must consider wearing HPD to protect them from damaging their hearing ability.

 

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