Hearing Protection Program: What is it & Why Does it Matter?

Your hearing protection program should is essential to your business’s safety strategy. Unfortunately, many companies forget about the dangers of workplace noise and are unaware of the importance of protecting their employees’ hearing.

Make sure you have the right steps in place with this guide to everything you need to know about developing and implementing your hearing protection program so your employees can stay safe and healthy on the job.

Why is Hearing Protection so Important?

If you work in a loud environment, you likely know you’re supposed to wear hearing protection.

A hearing protection program is a set of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) practices and procedures designed to prevent or minimize worker exposure to noise that may lead to hearing loss.

The program should be tailored to the specific needs of each workplace and may include a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) can cause hearing loss. And, once your hearing is gone, it doesn’t come back. That’s why it’s so important always to protect your hearing.

Noise Levels and Noise-induced Hearing Loss: The Basics

Noise-induced deafness is the most common form of hearing loss, and it occurs when you are exposed to loud noises. While some people are more susceptible, exposure to loud noise can cause damage to your ears. You don’t have to be a concertgoer or someone who loves music to experience this type of hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur if you live in an area with heavy traffic or industrial noise. It can also happen when you work in an environment with a lot of machinery or equipment running at high volumes.

That’s why it’s crucial to wear ear protection when exposed to loud noises.

Here are some concepts to understand about noise and hearing loss:

Noise level

Noise level is the volume or decibel level of noise in your environment, measured in Sone or dB. It can be a sound or a combination of sounds, like music, talking, crying, etc.

Excessive noise exposure

Excessive noise exposureis when a person’s hearing is damaged by prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels. This usually occurs when someone goes to a loud concert or club or works in an open area with constant loud sounds, like construction or manufacturing plants.

Excessive sound pressure level (SPL)

Excessive sound pressure level (SPL) refers to the maximum amount of sound our ears can detect in a given time (in this case, one second).

The SPL for each type of sound varies depending on its loudness and duration, but generally speaking, the louder the sound, the higher its SPL value will be measured at each octave from low frequencies up to mid-range frequencies (around 2 kHz).

Types of earplugs

You can buy hearing protection devices from departmental stores like Amazon, Target, Walmart, or local pharmacies. The cost of these devices varies depending on their quality and quantity bought.

You can also use custom-fit versions from safety product companies if you want something tailored for your needs.

Here are some common types:

1.     Earplugs

Earplugs are small plugs covered with wax that help stop sound from entering your ear canal. You can also use them to block out loud noises such as gunshots or aircraft engine noise.

Earplugs come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the type of noise they block out. Some earplugs are designed for outdoor use, while others can be used inside or outside the workplace.

●       Disposable earplugs

These are made of foam and are designed to be used once and then thrown away.

●       Reusable earplugs

Reusable ear protection devices are silicone or rubber and can be washed and reused.

●       Custom-fit earplugs

Tailored earplugs are made from an impression of your ear and provide the best fit, comfort, and noise reduction.

2.    Earmuffs

Earmuffs fit over the top of your head and around your ears and offer good protection from loud noises. You should wear them with a hat for better protection against cold weather.

Most are designed specifically for use with firearms, and some even offer a sound dampening feature that reduces noise by 90 percent.

3.    Compression Headwear

This style of hearing protection involves wearing a hat or helmet with earmuffs inside the ear canal. The earmuffs form a seal against your head that prevents sound from entering your ears or causing damage to your eardrums.

Image alt text: hearing protection program. A picture of an overhead headphone used to prevent ear damage.

Author credit: By Roadside Guitars – Hearing ProtectionUploaded by Partyzan_XXI, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8440518

1.      Over-the-Head Masks

These devices cover your entire head with no ear openings or openings that can be blocked by clothing. They’re ideal for protecting against airborne contaminants such as dust or pollen grains, but they don’t provide much protection against in-person sounds like gunshots or sirens.

2.    Electronic hearing-loss protection devices

Another common type of earplug is an electronic device made from a plastic shell that fits over the opening in your outer ear canal (otitis media). This device protects against noises that cause hearing loss, but it does not prevent loud sounds from entering your inner ear (eustachian tube).

It may not work as well as other hearing protection devices explicitly created for this purpose, such as audiometric (measuring) foam or custom-molded silicone ear plugs. However, these types of devices may be more expensive than their electronic counterparts due to their cost.

How Much Do Ear Protection Devices Cost?

Depending on where you work, your employer may provide some ear protection, or you may be required to purchase it yourself.

Ear protection isn’t typically costly; around $10 to $20 for a pair of disposable foam earplugs and $50–70 USD for a custom-fit pair.

6 Steps to Better Hearing Protection

People often don’t realize how much noise their daily activities make until they lose their hearing.

When this happens, it’s essential to take steps toward better protection from noise to avoid permanent damage to the eardrum or other parts of the ear canal (conductive deafness).

Here are six steps to better hearing protection:

1.   Avoid loud noise whenever possible.

Noise-induced hearing loss happens suddenly, without warning, due to sudden exposure to loud noise. The effects of noise on your hearing depend on how much time you spend exposed to noise, the volume of the sound, and other factors.

2.   Wear ear protection If you must be exposed to loud noise.

Earplugs or earmuffs can reduce the sound level reaching your ear by about 20 decibels (dB). During a 10-minute exposure to 85 dB, most people will tolerate six hours at that level before experiencing tinnitus or permanent hearing loss from noise.

If you must be exposed to loud sounds for several hours or more, consider wearing earplugs or earmuffs for that period.

3.   Take a break from the noise every few hours.

The ear is delicate and needs time to recover from each exposure to loud noise.

When you’re exposed to loud sounds over an extended period (more than five minutes), your ears become desensitized. They require more time before they can process sounds again at their original intensity. That’s why you should break away from the noise every few hours.

4.    Get your hearing checked regularly.

Testing your hearing regularly is essential in tracking your health. Conditions that affect your otitis media or cause ear infections put you at risk of hearing loss.

5.  Talk to your doctor about medications that could help protect your hearing.

If you use certain medications or over-the-counter drugs, talk to your doctor about using a safe alternative. Some medicines can be harmful to your ears and should not be used if they’re causing problems with your hearing.

3.   Make lifestyle changes to protect your hearing.

You can help keep your ears healthy by making simple lifestyle changes like turning down loud music or listening at lower volumes. Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol also helps protect ears from damage caused by loud sounds.

4.   Read instructions and insert them correctly

Earplugs need to be inserted correctly to work properly; you should avoid putting them in too deeply as this will reduce their effectiveness. Be sure to read all instructions before use!

Tips for Using Ear Protection Devices Effectively

  1. Make sure the ear protection devices fit snugly and comfortably over your ears.
  2. If you’re using earplugs, make sure to insert them properly so that they create a tight seal.
  3. If you’re using earmuffs, adjust the headband so that it fits snugly and doesn’t put too much pressure on your head.
  4. Clean and replace your ear protection devices if they become dirty or damaged.
  5. Replace old plugs with new ones every six months or when they lose their effectiveness- whichever comes first.
  6. Take care of your ear protection devices. Once they’ve lost their effectiveness, or if they are dirty, damaged, or otherwise compromised, you need to replace them with a fresh pair.
  7. Store them away from extremes in temperature (too hot or too cold).
  8. Replace ear protection devices after six months for optimal safety.

Helping Employees Use Earplugs Properly

Employees need thorough training on how to insert earplugs. Once they have been adequately trained, they should be given a set of earplugs to keep with them.

Employees who work in a noisy area should put the earplugs in before starting work.

Here are some tips to increase compliance:

Tips to increase earplug usage

1.    Teach the dangers

Earplugs should be worn for the entire shift, even if the noise level decreases. Employees should also be aware of the dangers of not wearing earplugs, such as hearing loss and tinnitus.

2.    Provide plugs that allow employees to communicate with each other

To help prevent these problems, some employers provide employees with earplugs that reduce the sound without removing it completely.

For example, foam plugs can help protect against high-frequency sounds but are ineffective against low-frequency sounds like thunderstorms.

3.    Choose the right size

Wearing earplugs consistently is essential in protecting hearing, but so is giving employees custom-fitting earplugs that are comfortable.

To make sure earplugs fit correctly, an individual needs to measure their ear canal size by putting their finger inside the canal and pressing outward until the point where resistance is felt.

An excellent way to do this is to bring in a hearing protection expert to help them find their size.

By measuring your ears individually and making sure you purchase custom-fitted earplugs, you’ll be able to create a more effective seal that will reduce any discomfort caused by pressure buildup around your ears while wearing them.

What Does OSHA Say About Hearing Protection?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to noise levels of 85 decibels (dBA) or higher can cause hearing loss.

To help protect workers from the dangers of exposure to loud noise, OSHA established the Hearing Conservation Amendment (HCA) to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The HCA requires employers to take steps to protect workers from exposure to excessive noise levels at work.

These steps include monitoring noise levels, providing hearing protection devices, and offering training to use them properly.

Factors to Consider When Buying Ear Plugs

Here are some tips to help you choose the right hearing protection device for you:

1.    Buy hearing protection based on noise expose

The device you choose should protect you from the noise exposure you’re likely to encounter. Remember, noise levels vary so a construction site worker needs a more protective device than a music producer.

2.   Select the right size of hearing protection device.

Hearing protection devices come in different sizes so that they can fit your ears perfectly. If the hearing protection device is not sized correctly, it will not block out all the noise.

Image alt text: hearing protection program. Testing the size of an earmuff on an artificial head fixture.

Author credit: By Chuck Kardous – NIOSH, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76959420

1.   Insist on earplugs that are comfortable to wear.

Some people find larger earplugs uncomfortable while others prefer smaller ones. You should try several different earplugs before choosing one that feels most comfortable for you.

2.   Choose devices that allow you to hear other sounds

Go for ear protection that will enable you to hear different sounds without being distracted by loud noises around you. You don’t want to cover your ears entirely as this could be risky, especially in an industrial or construction workplace.

3.   Workers’ preferences

Another critical factor is finding a device that meets the specific needs of your workers. Different workers have different preferences, so finding a hearing protection device that will be comfortable and effective for each individual is crucial.

4.   Brand

You’ll also want to consider the brand of the hearing protection device. Some brands are more expensive but may offer better quality or features. Finding a balance between quality and price that meets your needs is essential.

5.   Durability

Another factor to consider is the durability of the hearing protection device. Some devices are designed for single-use, while others are more durable and can be used for multiple shifts. Consider how often the hearing protection device will need to be replaced and find a device that meets those needs.

6.   Maintenance

Maintenance is also essential. You want to find hearing protection devices that are easy to maintain.

Types of Hearing Hazards

There are many types of noise-induced hearing loss. Here are some of the most common:

1.   Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears that comes and goes. It can be caused by age or exposure to loud noises, such as music played at high volume. Tinnitus may also occur during an ear infection or an allergic reaction to certain medications.

2.    Hearing loss

Hearing loss is any reduction in hearing that occurs as a result of damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve, which connects the inner ear to your brain.

While this damage may occur gradually over time with normal aging, it can also develop suddenly due to an ear infection or other medical condition.

3.   Injury

Injury to the ears can happen in several ways:

  • through falls,
  • sports injuries
  • blasting sounds like fireworks or gunfire;
  • through blows or attacks;

It may also be triggered by water irrigation systems or sandblasting machines used in construction projects.

Are Custom Fit Ear Protection Devices the New Norm?

Custom-fit hearing protection devices are essential for those working in the construction industry. These workers are exposed to loud noises on a daily basis, and having the right hearing protection is vital to their safety.

The most common type of ear plugs and ear muffs can either be uncomfortable or impractical for construction workers.

Here’s why custom-fit hearing protection devices are the new norm:

  • They are the comfortable
  • They are built to protect from the specific noise levels you experience
  • Workers are more likely to wear them

Custom-fit ear plugs and ear muffs allow workers to customize their protection based on their needs and preferences:

  • Customizing fit: it is possible to adjust the fit of custom-fit ear plugs and ear muffs so that they fit snugly with no gaps between your head and the plug or muff
  • Customizing volume: it is possible to adjust the volume of custom-fit ear plugs and ear muffs so that they do not interfere with normal conversation
  • Customizing comfort: it is possible to adjust the earplug so they offer just enough pressure on your ear for maximum comfort.

You can also adjust its design to appeal to workers’ preferences and make your team more willing to wear them.

Hearing Protection Program

If you are responsible for safety in the workplace, you know that hearing loss is one of the most common occupational injuries.

And while it may not seem like a severe injury, hearing loss can profoundly impact a person’s life. That’s why having an effective hearing loss prevention program at your workplace is crucial.

If you are responsible for organizing a hearing loss protection program, you can take a few key steps to ensure its success.

steps to organize an effective hearing protection program

Follow these steps to create an effective hearing loss prevention program:

  1. First, you will need to identify the individuals at your workplace who are most at risk for developing hearing loss. Conduct noise surveys to identify areas of high noise exposure. You can do this in various methods, including job hazard analyses, health and safety audits, and exposure monitoring.
  2. Once you have identified the at-risk population, you must develop and implement strategies to protect them from further noise exposure. This may include engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.
  3. Encourage employees to use hearing protection devices.
  4. Educate yourself and your employees about the risks of hearing loss.
  5. Monitor employee hearing test results. Finally, you will need to establish a system to monitor the effectiveness of the hearing loss protection program and make changes as necessary.

By following these steps, you can make a big difference in preventing hearing loss in the workplace.

Final Words

Hearing loss is a preventable occupational injury that commonly affects workers in noisy environments. A hearing protection program effectively reduces hearing loss and other noise-related problems.

When developing a hearing protection program, it’s essential to consider the needs of your employees. Factors such as the type of work they do, the noise levels they are exposed to, and their personal preferences should all be considered.