Hearing protection is an essential element of nearly all occupational hearing conservation programmes. 3M can help you with the expertise and products you need to protect your employees.
Hearing protection devices (HPDs) help lower the noise exposure of workers by blocking out some of the sound that enters their ears. They are most effective when used in conjunction with other methods of reducing exposure to hazardous noise such as Buy Quiet programmes and noise controls. In an occupational Hearing Conservation Programme (HCP), it is preferable to eliminate or decrease the severity of the hazard rather than to change the way people work or require workers to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
When controlling hazardous noise isn’t feasible at source or by engineering method, HPDs are an important consideration. Offer a variety of HPDs that provide options for workers in terms of comfort, ease of use, communication and noise reduction (attenuation). Balance the need for noise reduction with the needs of individual workers and the work environment. This may mean that several types of hearing protectors are needed. Consider offering HPDs that are designed to help workers hear important sounds when there are concerns about communication and safety on the job.
Perhaps most important of all, teach your employees about their hearing protectors and how to properly use them. The attitudes and behaviours of your employees can be as important as the design of the HPDs themselves in helping to protect their hearing.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 requires that appropriate hearing protectors be made available when the daily continuous noise level reaches 80dB(A) must be worn when it reaches 85dB(A). At no time should the worker be exposed to the Limit Value of 87dB(A). The role of hearing protectors is clearly defined in helping achieve the Limit value. The protected exposure is the estimated TWA noise exposure of the employee after the protection provided by the HPD is taken into account. The European guidance document EN 458:2016 suggests that a hearing protector which provides an effective sound level at the ear of between 70dB(A) and 80dB(A) is considered suitable.
Given the large number of hearing protection options to choose from, employers should have no difficulty selecting a few HPDs from several categories which provide the right amount of noise reduction. Since ear canal sizes vary widely among groups of workers, be sure to include several sizes and types of earplugs. Because the noise and work tasks are typically rather different, it can be helpful to include other options such as earmuffs, banded hearing protectors, and level-dependent hearing protectors that are designed to help employees maintain their ability to hear important sounds.
Since effective use of hearing protection is related to the skill and motivation of the wearer, training and education of employees is extremely important. Training should include information on the relative benefits of different styles of hearing protectors, how to select them, proper use and care and when to replace them. To boost the impact of your training, be sure to include interactive learning methods, customize the content to your specific facility and discover what may motivate your employees to value their hearing enough to want to consistently wear hearing protection. Remind employees when, where and how to wear hearing protection using signs and posters in noisy areas.
Each hearing protector has a set of attenuation values as derived from official testing in accordance with the appropriate harmonized European standard. The attenuation values are reported in three separate ways; Single Number Rating (SNR), High, Medium and Low (HML) and Octave band. These attenuation values are obtained from very experienced test panel under controlled laboratory conditions. However, in the workplace the noise reduction obtained by the individual wearer can sometimes be significantly lower. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) attempts to address this issue by enforceing a 'de-rating' of 4dB from the SNR claimed by the manufacturer. However, this is an estimated value which may not address the needs of individual workers.
3M strongly recommends fit testing of hearing protectors as the best method to validate that each employee is obtaining the proper level of protection. You can quickly measure and document the Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR) for each ear using a system such as the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ Dual Ear Validation System. With this information, you can easily identify those employees who need additional training or who should be wearing a different size or style of hearing protector.
The European guidance document EN 458:2016 explains the benefit of individual fit testing as a way of improving field performance of hearing protectors. 3M strongly recommends fit testing of hearing protectors as an indicator of the noise reduction obtained by individual employees.
Employers must make available a 'variety of suitable hearing protectors' to all employees who are exposed to noise level at the Lower Exposure Action Value of 80dB(A) and must be strictly enforced at the Upper Exposure Action Value of 85dB(A) for hearing conservation. HPDs must be provided at no cost to employees and replaced as necessary.
Employers must provide training in the use and care of all hearing protectors provided to employees, ensure proper initial fitting and supervise the correct use of all hearing protectors.
Employers must ensure that hearing protectors are worn by employees who fall into any of these categories:
The employer must evaluate the HPD attenuation for the specific noise environment in which the protector is used to ensure the device provides optimum level of protection with due consideration for over-protection which may affect audibility of important signals and emergency sounds such as fire alarms, moving vehicles etc.
The ideal effective sound level under the hearing protectors should be in the range of 75 to 70 dB(A).
The adequacy of hearing protector attenuation must be re-evaluated whenever employee noise exposures increase to the point where the HPD may no longer provide enough protection. The employer must provide more effective protection as necessary. In any case, the Limit Value must not be exceeded at any time and can be achieved by wearing suitable hearing protectors.
The effectiveness of HPDs is directly related to how well they seal out sound in the environment. This is called the acoustic seal. Without an effective acoustic seal, excess sound leaks into the ear canal.
Some sounds are more difficult to block than others. For example, low frequency sounds (bass on the musical scale) are more difficult to attenuate than high frequency sounds (treble on the musical scale). To obtain good attenuation for both low and high frequency sounds, hearing protectors must seal tightly in or around the ears with no leaks. When leaks occur, low frequency sound can get through, causing a drop in the overall noise reduction. Suggestions for optimizing noise reduction of hearing protectors:
Selecting hearing protection for your employees comes down to finding the right balance of comfort, ease of use, attenuation and situational awareness.
The effectiveness of a hearing protector depends not only on the attenuation rating including Single Number Rating (SNR), High (H) Medium (M) Low (L) and Octave Band of the device but also on how well it fits, how it is used and its condition.
Hearing protector fit testing is recognised as a way of improving field performance of the hearing protection device in accordance with the European Guidance Document EN 458:2016. Although it is not a mandatory requirement, it has several benefits, and will help employers to meet the requirements to ensure proper initial fitting and supervise the correct use of all hearing protectors.
Research suggests that many users achieve less noise reduction than indicated by the attenuation on the packaging due to variation in fit, fitting skills and motivation of the user. In view of such variability, 3M strongly recommends fit testing to verify the attenuation obtained by each employee.
Fit testing systems such as the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ DualEar™ Validation System are referred to as Field Attenuation Estimation Systems (FAES). The measurement obtained during FAES testing is the Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR). The PAR provides a moment-in-time snapshot of how well the hearing protector is reducing sound for that individual worker. Although hearing protector fit may vary from day to day, fit testing helps to verify that each worker is capable to fitting his/her hearing protectors correctly and obtaining adequate attenuation and that the hearing protector is appropriate for the size and shape of the ear canal or head. More information on 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ is available here, you can also contact your local 3M repesentative to hear more and arrange a trial.
Some of the key benefits of HPD fit testing include:
IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is based on selected current national requirements. Other country or local requirements may be different. Always consult User Instructions and follow national regulations. This website contains an overview of general information and should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Reading this information does not certify proficiency in safety and health. Information is current as of the date of publication, and requirements can change in the future. This information should not be relied upon in isolation, as the content is often accompanied by additional and/or clarifying information. All applicable national laws and regulations must be followed.
Contact your local 3M office for further information.