Did you know that nearly a quarter of hearing issues experienced by U.S. workers can be attributed to occupational exposures? Furthermore, the estimated workers’ compensation payout from employers with employees who experience hearing loss is around $242 million.
Chronically loud environments, or even contact with ototoxic chemicals, can lead to a lifelong decline in hearing function. And, that’s why it’s so important to have the right occupation hearing conservation program in place.
An effective occupational hearing conservation program requires a multi-faceted approach that includes several preventive measures.
One crucial aspect is the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment [PPE] to protect workers’ hearing from excessive noise exposure.
Here, we’ll explore ten important types of PPE that you should include in your occupational hearing conservation program. These PPE options will help reduce the risk of hearing loss and promote a safer and healthier work environment.
Let’s break it down.
Related Article: Are your employees using proper hearing protection?
Related Article: 7 Steps for Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss
Creating an Effective Occupational Hearing Conservation Program
Protecting your team’s health requires a combination of efforts that all help to reduce risk. Hearing conservation programs are comprehensive strategies designed to prevent and monitor occupational hearing loss.
These programs should include:
- Regular noise monitoring
- Audiometric testing
- Employee education and training
- Ongoing evaluation of control measures.
Such programs enable early detection of hearing loss, prompt intervention, and ensure compliance with relevant regulations.
- See OSHA Guideline on Hearing Conservation Program [95(c)]
- See OSHA Guideline on Hearing Conservation Program for Construction Workers [95, 1926.52, 1926.101]
- See OSHA Guidelines on Occupational Noise Exposure; exposure and controls
10 Important PPE Items to Include in Your Hearing Conservation Program:
Earplugs are a common and cost-effective form of PPE for hearing protection, inserted into the ear canal to block or reduce noise levels. Earplugs come in different shapes, sizes, and materials, including foam, silicone, and wax.
They provide a comfortable fit and are ideal for workers who need to communicate or wear additional headgear.
Earmuffs consist of ear cups that cover the entire ear, creating a seal to block out noise. They’re also adjustable, allowing for a secure and customized fit.
Earmuffs generally offer higher noise reduction capabilities compared to earplugs, and are particularly useful in high-noise environments. They are also easy to put on and take off, making them convenient for intermittent noise exposure.
3. Disposable Earplugs
Disposable earplugs are similar to standard earplugs, but are designed for one-time use.
They are made of soft foam or other materials and provide excellent noise reduction. Disposable earplugs are hygienic, affordable, and suitable for workers who require frequent replacements or have allergies to certain materials.
4. Semi-Insert Earplugs
Semi-insert earplugs, also known as “canal caps” or “banded” earplugs, consist of a pair of earplugs connected by a band that rests behind the neck. As their name implies, they aren’t fully inserted into the ear canal. Rather, they tend to simply cover the entrance to the ear canal.
They are easy to wear and remove, making them convenient for workers who need to take them on and off frequently. Semi-insert earplugs provide a good balance between protection and communication, as they can be easily pulled down to allow for conversations without complete removal.
However, although they offer a high level of convenience, they don’t generally provide the same level of protection as traditional plugs or muffs. Thus, they’re not recommended for those working in a constantly noisy environment.
5. Electronic Earplugs
Electronic earplugs combine hearing protection with advanced technology.
They incorporate microphones and speakers that amplify low-level sounds, allowing workers to hear warning signals or communicate effectively while still blocking high-level noise.
Electronic earplugs automatically adjust the sound levels, providing both protection and situational awareness in noisy environments.
If your team needs to have both quality ear protection and still need to hear lower-volume sounds, such as normal speech, then these might be the right choice for you. That said, they’re also one of the pricier options available, and their need for charging or batteries means that they’re not suited for every business.
6. Electronic/Communication Earmuffs
Like their earplug counterparts, communication earmuffs are specifically designed for workers who need to communicate effectively in high-noise environments.
They integrate noise-cancelling or sound amplification technologies to enhance speech intelligibility while reducing harmful noise level.
Communication earmuffs often have built-in microphones, speakers, and Bluetooth connectivity for clear communication and improved safety. Again, however, this technology comes at a price. They’re also among the more expensive options, and will need regular battery charges or changes to maintain effectiveness.
7. Custom Molded Earplugs
Custom molded earplugs are individually designed to fit the unique shape of an individual’s ear. They provide excellent noise reduction and a comfortable, secure fit.
These earplugs are made by taking impressions of the ear canal and are ideal for workers with irregularly shaped ear canals or those who require long-term hearing protection.
8. Helmet-Mounted Earmuffs
For workers who wear safety helmets, helmet-mounted earmuffs offer a convenient solution.
These earmuffs are designed to attach directly to the helmet, providing hearing protection without compromising head protection. Helmet-mounted earmuffs are adjustable, allowing workers to position them comfortably and securely.
If your team is regularly required to wear hardhats, this is definitely one of the key solutions you’ll want to explore.
9. Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Like plugs and ear muffs, active noise cancelling headphones use advanced technology to detect and cancel out ambient noise.
They are particularly useful in environments where noise levels are consistently high, but not excessively loud. Active noise cancelling headphones reduce the overall noise exposure, can provide excellent ability to communicate or listen to critical audio, and are one of the more comfortable options available.
However, although they do reduce exposure to noise levels, they don’t generally provide the same level of protection as plugs or ear muffs.
10. Noise Dosimeters
While not a traditional form of PPE, noise dosimeters play a crucial role in hearing conservation programs.
These devices are worn by workers to measure their personal noise exposure over a specific period. Noise dosimeters provide accurate data on noise levels, duration of exposure, and identify individuals who may be at risk of hearing loss.
This information helps you assess the effectiveness of your occupational hearing conservation program, identify areas of concern, and make necessary adjustments.
Including the appropriate PPE in your occupational hearing conservation program is vital to protect workers from excessive noise exposure and prevent hearing loss.
Earplugs, earmuffs, disposable earplugs, semi-insert earplugs, electronic earplugs, communication earmuffs, custom molded earplugs, helmet-mounted earmuffs, active noise cancelling headphones, and noise dosimeters are all essential PPE options to consider.
Remember, providing workers with the right hearing protection not only ensures their safety but also contributes to a healthier work environment and enhanced overall productivity.
Mobile Audiometric Testing
For audiometric testing, which is required by OSHA, Worksite Medical brings the examinations directly to your worksite. Employers must make audiometric testing available at no cost to all employees who are exposed to an action level of 85 dB or above, measured as an 8-hour TWA.
You can get up to six audio booths and up to 20 exams per hour for efficient testing. Audiometric testing is pure tone air-conducted hearing testing performed in each ear at frequencies of 500, 1K, 2K, 3K, 4K, 6K, and 8K. This sort of testing identifies hearing levels and sensitivity to the exposed sound.
We also provide hearing safety training. And, you never have to send your team members away to a clinic. Get your risk-free quote or schedule your on-site audiometric exams below. Let’s keep your team safe and stay ahead of OSHA inspections together.
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.