Solutions to Avoid Irreversible Hearing Damage in the Workplace

photos courtesy ISOtunes®

By: Pete Murphy, Contributor

What comes to mind when you think of ways to protect yourself on the job? Goggles or glasses to protect your eyes; gloves to protect your hands; and a hard hat to protect your head—but what about hearing protection for your ears? Like all PPE, hearing protection is essential to avoid the adverse outcomes—in some cases, irreversible—that come with working in loud environments.

Our ears contain tiny fibers that help us hear. Over time, loud noise from equipment slowly and unnoticeably breaks down those fibers. According to the CDC, once those fibers break down, it is impossible to revert the damage done. In workplaces, especially those where workers consistently face exposure to noise over 85 decibels, companies need to establish a comprehensive process to determine the best solution for their specific team needs.

No matter the industry, hearing protection is a must.

In several industries, hazards expose employees to risks that require protection. In industries like construction, lawn care or manufacturing, employees run the risk of damaging their hearing daily due to consistently high noise levels.

Many of these workplaces are required by law to have a hearing conservation program in place, especially when “noise exposure is at or above 85 decibels averaged over eight working hours, or an 8-hour, time-weighted average,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In most cases, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is preventable. A solution for one workplace may not work for others; hearing protection is not a one-size-fits-all category. When discussing changes or additions to workplace safety protocols, including all employees affected by these changes is essential.

Hearing protection solutions: Which one is right for you?

Situational awareness technology amplifies the sounds around you that you want to hear, like coworkers talking and warning signals, but blocks damaging noise above 85dB. (photo courtesy ISOtunes®)

When you think about hearing protection, you probably picture those squishy, orange earplugs that never stay in place and hurt your ears. Thankfully, there are a variety of hearing protection solutions on the market today that tailor to a wide range of preferences. Before considering product options, let’s discuss standard features that can help narrow down the best options for your workplace.

  • Noise Reduction Rating (NRR): Hearing protection headphones rate their products with an NRR, a unit of measurement that determines the effectiveness of hearing protection devices in decreasing sound exposure within a working environment. When workers wear hearing protection, the NRR of their device determines the amount of noise reduction they’re getting. Hearing protectors are classified by their potential to reduce noise in decibels (dB) and must be tested to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard in order to be OSHA compliant.
  • Functionality: While safety should be the number one priority when selecting hearing protection products, functionality is an important consideration. Since workers will be wearing safety earplugs or earmuffs for the majority of the workday (or for extended periods of time), it’s imperative to have a device that fits your environment and doesn’t cause interruptions to your workflow.

Features to consider include:

  • Comfort and fit
  • Style options: over-the-ear (earmuff), in-ear (earplug) or semi-aural (banded)
  • Bluetooth technology (for music and phone calls)
  • Background noise-isolating microphone
  • Water-, sweat- and dust-resistant
  • Situational awareness technology*

While safety should be the number one priority when selecting hearing protection products, functionality is an important consideration. (photo courtesy ISOtunes®)

*Situational awareness technology amplifies the sounds around you that you want to hear, like coworkers talking and warning signals, but blocks damaging noise above 85dB. This technology uses microphones to pick up outside sounds and amplify them through your hearing protector, similar to a hearing aid or enhancer. With noises above 85dB, like a hammer hitting, the device will limit the sound to a lower frequency.

Having a hearing protector that not only protects your hearing, but also features such functional components as a regular headphone, makes it optimal for everyday use.

  • Compliance: Most employers use OSHA as the standard of compliance and should use guidelines set by this organization when selecting hearing protection products.
  • When searching for OSHA-compliant safety products, find a trusted third-party vendor with whom you can create a relationship and build a rapport. Having a partner that’s an expert in the industry can help you make the right decisions on what hearing protection products are best for your employees and the environments they work in.

Not a “One-Size-Fits-All” Solution

It’s vital to view workplace hearing protection as somewhat tailored. Multiple elements can obstruct or enhance your team’s willingness to adjust to new PPE. For instance, does the hearing protection you’re looking at offer different eartip sizes or options between earmuffs and earbud styles? Thinking about these personalization options can boost compliance in the workplace.

Pete Murphy is President of Haven Technologies Inc., maker of ISOtunes® branded products. To learn more about ISOtunes’ innovative hearing protector solutions and browse their various products, visit www.isotunes.com.

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