Did you know that four million workers go to work each day in damaging noise? In just one year, 23,000 cases were reported of occupational hearing loss that was great enough to cause hearing impairment. And these are only the cases that were reported! From these statistics, it’s clear that we’re not doing enough to prevent hearing loss at work. Employers give earplugs and earmuffs to employees, but getting employees to wear them when they need to is another story altogether.
Here are the six biggest factors influencing low hearing protection device (HPD) usage and steps you can take to counteract them:
1. Lack of Comfort
Several studies suggest that comfort is more important than noise reduction rating (NRR). A comfortable device is generally worn longer. Wearing a comfortable device that blocks less noise and is worn longer is more effective than wearing a device that blocks more noise for a shorter time. Greater comfort leads to greater worker acceptance and increased wear time. Simply stated, getting workers to wear earplugs is more important than the product rating.
2. Lack of Availability
While this might be most relevant to a construction site, convenience is critical in any industry. If HPDs are not readily available, workers are unlikely to leave their job location to go find them.
3. Lack of Training
The importance of training can’t be overlooked. Workers feeling that they can properly select and don HPDs is a critical factor in their decision to wear them.
Many customers select HPDs solely on the basis of a high NRR. However, many time-weighted average (TWA) occupational noise exposures are 95 decibels or less. An HPD delivering 10 decibels of actual attenuation covers many exposures and reduces noise to below 85 decibels.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) suggests that attenuation below 70 decibels is considered overprotection. This needlessly interferes with speech communication or warning signals and should be avoided. Set a goal for a protected level of 75 to 80 decibels.
5. Personal Selection
In some cases, employers only provide one type of HPD to their employees. Any single product may overprotect some workers or be uncomfortable to others. Ear canal size and shape varies from person to person. A protector that fits well for one person with good attenuation may be uncomfortable and perform poorly for the next person. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests that a selection of HPDs should be available to employees.
6. Fit Testing
Employees need to minimally demonstrate their ability to put on their HPD. Use a machine to conduct an earplug fit test or have a trainer observe the process. Workers must show that they can put their earplug in or earmuff on correctly. By documenting this, employees have no excuse for not wearing HPDs on the construction site or factory floor. Management also has documentation on the type of plug or muff that an employee was fitted with. Now the employee has accountability in the process.
The Right HPD for Your Employees
Hearing loss is a big concern in the workplace. Every year, thousands of workers report occupational hearing loss. By overcoming these six challenges, you can ensure that your workers are comfortable and protected with the right HPD.