Hearing protection Essentials: Protectors 101

Ensuring the protection of each employee’s own hearing capability and sustainability to hearing quality, employer’s need to understand if the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) being provided is able to do so.  Even though employers are required to  provide hearing testing on a periodic basis for employees who are exposed above acceptable occupational noise thresholds, it the responsibility of the employer to prepare their employees for a successful hearing test result.

Properly selecting hearing protectors must be based on comfort, accessibility and compatibility.

Employees will not use hearing protectors that are uncomfortable, not easy to access, difficult to use or interfere with their assigned work task.  To ensure they will wear the hearing protectors, involve employees in the selection process and experiment with different types.

Most hearing protectors are labeled with SLC80 [Sound Level Conversion] label.  What does SLC80 mean?  It is an estimate of the amount of protection attained by 80% of users, based upon laboratory testing. Depending on the level of attenuation in the SLC rating, a classification is assigned to a protector: a Class 1 protector may be used in noise up to 90 dB, a Class 2 protector to 95 dB, a Class 3 protector to 100 dB, and so on in 5 dB increments. Packaging will often show the SLC80, followed by the classification (i.e. SLC80 27, Class 5).

Understanding SLC80 classifications and ensuring the correct hearing protector is adequately comparable to the noise hazard is essential to employee’s hearing health as well as for the cost of employers doing business.

The average direct cost for a noise related Workers Compensation claim is $9000. Indirect costs associated with the claim are conservatively estimated at $35,000. That’s a $42,000 loss for your business per occupational noise claim!

By providing proper hearing protectors for employees and conducting training on proper use, limitations, maintenance, storage and areas where they are mandatory, is a great start of providing education to workers to ensure their own hearing safety.  Add periodic observation audits and ongoing refresher training to the mix will drastically improve a positive hearing test result.

Below are a few additional tips and reminders for preventing hearing loss due to working in the work environment:

  • Use ear protection equipment such as ear muffs or ear plugs if you work in a noisy environment. It’s important to insert ear plugs correctly to gain the benefit of wearing them.
  • Don’t insert objects such as cotton buds, cotton wool and tissue into your ears.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of common causes of hearing loss.
  • Make sure employees, contractors and visitors are aware of the hearing protection policy through continuous reinforcement of it through training, postings and observations.
  • Enforce hearing protection policy.
  • Conduct hearing testing for newly installed equipment, every 2 years, or more frequently if your employees are exposed to higher levels of hazardous noise.
  • Promote an “Off The Job” safety program promoting safety and health tips for employees at home and recreation activities.



The Hearing Test

Did you hear the laughter of your grandchild playing in the backyard?  Were you able to hear your spouse ask if you wanted to play a board game?  Have you heard the latest hip hop song on the radio?  If you suffer from any sort of hearing loss, the answer to these questions are either no or somewhat.

Hearing testing

Occupational noise is a hazard as well as recreational noise such as shooting guns or riding on a dune buggy, and maintenance noise; mowing the grass or weed trimming with your trimmer.

Noise in the workplace, as well as recreational and maintenance noise (that are activities outside the workplace) can easily be managed to avoid the severity of hearing loss.  That is if you believe in protecting your ears now for future hearing capabilities.

Are your hearing under a current preventive maintenance program?

To understand the importance of hearing testing, let’s become familiar with how the ear functions and what type of hearing injuries exist.

The ear is the organ that makes hearing possible and is made up of three main parts:

  1. External outer ear – sound enters the outer ear and passes down the ear canal to the eardrum which vibrates.
  1. Air-Filled middle ear – an air-filled cavity that contains three tiny bones that pick up and carry the vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear.
  1. Fluid-filled Inner ear – contains the vestibular system (the balance organ) and the cochlea (the hearing organ), which is a coiled fluid-filled tube that turns the vibrations into electrical signals that are fed along the auditory nerve to the brain

In order to know if a hearing injury exist as well as the severity of it, will require a hearing test to be conducted.  Below are the most common type of hearing injuries that a hearing test, when conducted frequently can identify

  • Temporary Hearing Loss: Temporary hearing loss is due to short term overexposure of noise.  Hearing returns when you are away from the noise.
  • Permanent Hearing Loss: Permanent hearing loss results from exposure to a moderate or high level of noise over a long period of time.  This type of hearing loss does not return when you leave the noise area.  Permanent hearing loss is just that, permanent.
  • Another effect of exposure to high noise levels would be ‘tinnitus’, permanent ringing in the ear. Tinnitus sufferers usually complain of constant whistling, squealing, roaring or bussing in one or both ears.  Severe tinnitus may disrupt sleep, reduce concentration and cause irritability and even depression.

When we talk about hearing loss there are two different types to be familiar with. They are as follows:

Conductive hearing loss is when sounds don’t reach the inner ear efficiently. Conductive hearing loss can be caused by problems such as: a blockage in your ear canal, a build-up of earwax, an infection of your outer ear (otitis externa) or middle ear (otitis media), or a hole or tear in the eardrum (perforated eardrum).    Conductive hearing loss is often temporary and reversible.

Seniors-neural hearing loss occurs when sound reaches the inner ear but is still not heard.  This type of hearing loss may occur for a number of reasons, most commonly as a result of age-related change. This sort of hearing loss is nearly always permanent.

Take control of your individual hearing and participate in your employer’s hearing conservation program or wellness program.  You owe it to yourself and to your family to establish a preventative maintenance program for hearing.