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Ear protection vital in a noisy workplace

There’s more than meets the eye in choosing the right earplugs

Everyday in workplaces around Australia, hundreds of thousands of earplugs are inserted as workers step into noise hazardous jobsites.

To a casual observer, seeing an earplug in a worker’s ear implies protection. However, this can be a dangerous misperception that can ultimately lead to an employee’s hearing loss. The mere display of an earplug says nothing of the protection being achieved by the user.

There are two easy methods to tell if single-use earplugs have been inserted properly.

Visual Check
After fitting your single-use earplugs, look at yourself in a mirror. If you can see the earplugs clearly protruding from your ears, they’re probably not in far enough. If you have no access to a mirror, get another person to look at you from the front.

Acoustic Check
After fitting your earplugs, step into a noisy area. Cup your hands over your ears and release. Earplugs should block enough noise such that covering your ears with your hands should not result in a significant difference in the noise level.

Inserting earplugs properly and achieving a good seal in the ear-is enough to cause a significant improvement in attenuation.

The worker with a bad fit may be lulled into a false sense of protection when he detects slight muffling of high frequency sounds or some of the “edge” is taken off shrill noise.

But because the poor fit has seriously compromised low frequency protection, the effective overall protection is nearly OdB.

Taking the few extra seconds to ensure a correct fit makes an earplug the best defence against hazardous noise, instead of a wad of useless colorful decor stuck in a worker’s ear.

From experience, we know that a lot of people do not properly fit their earplugs and often compromise protection for personal comfort. This may be unintentional (lack of training in obtaining a proper fit or use of an earplug style that doesn’t suit their ear canal), or at times may be intentional (to improve speech intelligibility, or to improve comfort, for example).

Without proper fit training, earplugs, especially roll-down foam models, are not intuitive to use.

Without a proper fit, users do not achieve optimal attenuation for their environment, are underprotected and are at further risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Using VeriPRO® earplug fit testing technology, the correlation between improper fit and poor attenuation is easy to measure.

In candid conversations with safety managers and other Hearing Conservation professionals, a common thread identified that roll-down foam earplugs can be a challenge for workers:

  • “Our employees don’t take the time to ‘hold’ the earplug in their ears while the foam expands.”
  • “It is not inserted properly because the earplug is too big for their ear canal.”

To address the problems created by non-intuitive insertion and lack of training for roll-down foam earplugs, a new style of no-roll foam earplug that is pushed in like a multiple-use model has been introduced by Sperian Protection over the past few years.

These “push in” style earplugs combine a firm stem with a foam tip, and do not require rolling prior to insertion. This style of earplug takes little time or effort to fit, and since it utilizes foam, it claims to deliver a higher degree of comfort. Such earplugs are marketed as a “hybrid” between a single-use (foam for comfort) and multiple-use earplug (easy insertion and re-insertion for cost-effectiveness), and priced at the low end of multiple-use earplug spectrum.

In developing Pilot, Howard Leight’s new hybrid push-in style earplug, the focus has been on improved fit and comfort. This includes material composition, the amount of foam and stem (foam/stem ratio), attenuation and variability of fit.

The Pilot earplug, with its high foam content, enhanced wear time characteristics, and flexible, low-profile collapsible stem for insertion, is an ideal solution for those who seek a push-in style earplug that is quick to insert, and maximizes overall fit and comfort.

Hybrids such as Pilot are also ideal for dirty environments as no roll down is required and it is pushed into the ear using the stem.

Sperian Protection Australia Pty Ltd
Ph: 03 9565 3588