Personal hearing protection, such as ear-muffs or ear-plugs, should be used in the following circumstances:
- when the risks arising from exposure to noise cannot be eliminated or minimised by other more effective control measures
- as an interim measure until other control measures are implemented
- where extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using other noise control measures.
If the use of personal hearing protectors is necessary, it is important that the hearing protectors are worn throughout the period of exposure to noise. Removing personal hearing protectors for even short periods significantly reduces the effective attenuation (noise reduction) and might provide inadequate protection. For example, a worker wearing a hearing protector for a full 8-hour day will receive the 30 dB maximum protection level. However, one hour without wearing the hearing protector causes the maximum protection level to fall to 9 dB.
If the use of hearing protection is necessary, the employer should also be providing regular audiometric testing.
CHP specialise in helping organisations manage noise and the risk of noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace. We conduct noise surveys and onsite audiometric testing from our mobile facility. Find out for more….
How to choose your Personal Hearing Protection
Individual fit of personal hearing protectors is critical for optimum protection. When selecting personal hearing protectors you should consider the following:
- the degree of attenuation required in the worker’s environment. Do not provide protectors that overprotect by cutting out too much sound – this can cause difficulties hearing verbal instructions and other sounds needed to work safely
- the suitability for the type of working environment and the work tasks. For example, ear-plugs are difficult to use hygienically for work that requires them to be inserted with dirty hands and in these circumstances, ear-muffs are more appropriate, but ear-muffs can be uncomfortable to wear in hot environments and can make it difficult for the wearer to enter a confined space or to wear a helmet
- the comfort, weight and clamping force of the personal hearing protector.
- This is a useful comparison chart Comparison of Hearing Protection
Wearing work equipment – such as hard hats, dust masks and eye protection – may affect the performance of the protector. The fit of hearing protectors should be checked while the user is wearing regular work equipment. Workers wearing spectacles should be fitted with hearing protectors while wearing the spectacles.
Maintenance Personal hearing protectors must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they remain in good, clean condition. The inspections should check that:
- ear-muff seals are undamaged
- the tension of headbands is not reduced
- there are no unofficial modifications
- compressible ear-plugs are soft, pliable and clean.
If disposable ear-plugs are used, they should only be worn once.
Hearing Protection training
You must provide workers with training, information and instruction in the proper use, fit, care and maintenance of personal hearing protectors. You should also include the need to wear hearing protectors in your safety procedures, place someone in charge of issuing and making sure replacements are readily available, carry out spot checks to ensure that workers are wearing their hearing protectors when required and are using them correctly, ensure all managers and supervisors set a good example and wear personal hearing protectors at all times when in hearing protector areas.
Hearing Protection Areas
Areas where people may be exposed to hazardous noise should be sign-posted as areas where hearing protection must be worn and the boundaries of these areas should be clearly defined.
Workers and other persons, including managers and visitors, should not enter these areas without wearing appropriate personal hearing protection, regardless of how short the time they stay in the hearing protector area. Where sign-posting is not practicable, you should make other arrangements to ensure that workers and others know when personal hearing protection is required.
- attach prominent warning notices to tools and equipment indicating that personal hearing protectors should be worn when operating them
- provide written and verbal instructions on how to recognise circumstances in which personal hearing protectors are needed
- ensure effective supervision of identified hazardous tasks.
Personal hearing protection should be selected and maintained in accordance with AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational noise management – hearing protector program.
Involve workers in the selection process and offer a reasonable choice from a range of types. Suppliers of hearing protectors should provide the full information on the attenuation likely to be provided including the SLC80 ratings, class and octave band attenuation values. The attenuation values should be derived from attenuation measurements made in accordance with AS/NZS 1270 Acoustics – hearing protectors.
Ref: Code of Practice Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work, NSW