Workplaces producing excessive noise (either sudden or continuous) can injure workers and even lead to permanent hearing damage. In order to reduce the hazard, engineering controls, new work procedures, and administrative controls should all be considered. If there is no way to eliminate the dangerous of levels of noise in the facility, employer will need to provide the right hearing protection for workers.
Before purchasing hearing protection, it is important to assess the needs of the workplace. The loudness if the noise will need to be measured in decimals and it should be determined just how long employees are exposed to the noise. Do different work areas have different noise levels? Is the noise coming from one or multiple sources? These are all factors that will contribute to the decision of what protection to buy.
The two primary selections for hearing protection are:
- Ear plugs: Ear plugs are typically made out of a comfortable low-pressure foam that provides a considerable amount of protection for the wearer. Ear plugs can either be single-use or individually fitted for reuse. They are the smaller, more convenient, and more comfortable for long-term wear but are also more difficult to insert and remove, can be easily misplaced, and are more difficult to monitor because they are so small.
- Ear muffs: Unlike ear plugs which are inserted into the ear, ear muffs require a perfect seal around the ear for protection. It is easier for managers to monitor to use and allows workers to quickly put them on take them off. However, they are more uncomfortable in hot work environments and can be inconvenient in certain areas.
Ear plugs and ear muffs used in industrial settings are sold with NRR, or Noise Reduction Rating, labeling that lets the buyer know the amount of protection it offers; the higher the number the more effective it will be at reducing noise. Noise levels, dB levels, and environmental factors are all important factors that must be taken into consideration when purchasing hearing protection.