Custom Ear Protection

Only Custom Ear Protection Provides an Effective Defence Against NIHL



There have probably been numerous occasions on which you have found it necessary to stick your fingers in your ears in order to mask the noise of some exceptionally loud activity. While this may work as the temporary fix required on such occasions, it is far from being a universal solution. For those who are constantly exposed to high levels of noise in their work environment, something that is both more practical and more effective is required and, for those at risk, the best possible solution will invariably be to wear some form of custom ear protection.

A little noise can be annoying, but as the intensity of sound increases, so too does the risk that one’s hearing could be permanently damaged. In fact, noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL has become the most common form of auditory impairment and is responsible for more industrial injury claims than any other work-related incident.

Although the invention of gunpowder and firearms could most certainly be blamed for the earliest cases of NIHL, it was not until the end of the Second World War and the development of audiology that the extent of this condition among non-military personnel became apparent, and with this came the realisation that industrialisation was as much to blame as gunfire and that some form of ear protection, whether custom or otherwise, might possibly be of value as a means with which to prevent the onset of this type of deafness.

At this point, while a small number of infants were born with hearing defects, the main cause was still ear infections. In addition to the worldwide conflict, however, the ‘40s also marked the birth of penicillin, quickly followed by other antibiotics that, between them, were able to clear up most bacterial infections before they could cause any permanent damage. Given that, when sufficiently loud, noise can cause pain, the fact that it can also cause physical damage should come as no surprise. Consequently, in the absence of suitable custom ear protection, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss continued to rise.

The condition had long been prevalent among mineworkers in South Africa, but many were destined to suffer debilitating loss of hearing before the eventual publication of appropriate legislation governing this and other potential risks to the health and safety of employees in the workplace. Among the requirements of the 1974 act was the need to take steps to limit levels of noise in the work environment and to provide workers with effective ear protection where such levels remained unacceptably high.

Earplugs, however, are inadequate unless custom-fitted so that external sounds are unable to bypass them. To be effective, each pair must be designed to fit perfectly into the left and right ears of the individual wearer, so impressions must first be taken and then used to create the moulds with which to shape the tailored end-product. When first inserted, a leak test should be conducted to confirm a perfect fit.

While the tailored fit is necessary in order to form a perfect seal, it also means that without some form of modification, the wearer would effectively be deaf and totally unable to communicate with co-workers and supervisors, and may therefore be left unaware of other situations that might pose some physical threat. To overcome these problems while continuing to protect the wearer, custom ear protection requires some means by which to attenuate external sounds selectively.

Only earplugs with the ability to block sounds at and above the threshold of danger while permitting the passage of sounds of an acceptable level, such as normal speech, can offer the wearer a practical and safe solution. This effect can be achieved electronically and the level of attenuation should be adjustable, so as to ensure each individual will experience a degree of custom ear protection that is appropriate for his or her auditory acuity and the prevailing noise levels in the work environment.

To ensure that workers remain adequately protected, they need to be made aware of the nature and consequences of NIHL and the importance of wearing their earplugs continuously when at risk. In addition, each worker should undergo an audiogram prior to the introduction of the earplugs. This is necessary to provide a baseline hearing profile which may then be used for comparison with future audiograms as part of an ongoing monitoring programme.

H.A.S.S. Industrial manufactures world-class custom ear protection under the Noise-Ban brand as part of a comprehensive hearing conservation management programme in South Africa.

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