Hearing protection is of the utmost importance to those working around heavy machinery and any potentially damaging decibels of noise. Noise is a leading cause of hearing loss, yet one-third of all hearing loss can be prevented with proper protection. However, it is essential to choose the correct equipment to ensure maximum protection.
Myth: Noise reduction rating is the most important factor.
The noise reduction rating, or NRR, is not the most important element of proper hearing protection. The most important factor is comfort and a good fit, which will increase the likelihood of ear protectors being used consistently. Additionally, OSHA has estimated that the majority of workers in the U.S. only require 10 dB of protection, and almost all well-designed hearing protectors meet this standard. In fact, over-protection could lead to muffling important noises such as alarms.
Myth: Safety ear plugs and ear push ins cause ear infections.
Studies have shown that people who wear safety ear plugs and ear push ins are no more likely to experience ear infections than the general population. However, if someone is experiencing an ear infection, users can switch to ear muffs to prevent further aggravating the ear canal. While ear infections are an unfounded fear, there is a real danger of permanent hearing loss if workers in hazardously noisy environments refuse to wear hearing protection.
Myth: Hearing protection makes it hard to hear coworkers.
Just as sunglasses reduce glare and allow one to see better, hearing protection reduces overall noise and allow a person, who is used to wearing ear protectors, to understand speech more clearly. This is because the ear loses the ability to efficiently discriminate different sounds when the general noise level is excessive. However, at lower levels of noise, the ears can better identify and direct attention to important sounds. Smart hearing protection goes a step further and enhances human speech while electronically suppressing other background noises.
Myth: Protective glasses and earmuffs can’t be worn together.
Earmuffs can be worn with protective eyewear as long as the thickness of the frame does not exceed 2 millimeters. Earmuffs will be effective as long the cushioned ear cups are sealed to the head, and thin frames will not affect that. However, earmuffs do not necessarily provide greater protection than safety ear plugs, which outperform earmuffs in some cases.
Some people are more susceptible to noise induced hearing loss than others, but once the sensory cells in the ear are damaged, they cannot be restored. Hearing aids can provide some hearing assistance, but they also tend to distort the sound, meaning that one’s hearing will never be the same once damaged. Therefore, it is imperative to invest in well-fitting hearing protection that users will be comfortable wearing regularly.