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Custom Ear Protection

Custom Ear Protection Is the Best Defence Against the Risk of NIHL

Typically, it is only when our hearing starts to show the undeniable signs of deterioration that we begin to realise how dependent we are upon this remarkable ability to detect and interpret sounds. Nevertheless, hearing loss or deafness is a condition that has probably been around for as long as ears. We have long known that children may be born deaf, either as result of genetics, disease, or trauma, and that infections can also have this effect. However, until relatively recently, it would have been safe to say that ageing was the most common cause. Today, however, noise has become the leading cause of deafness, so custom hearing protection has never been more essential.

The phrase “noise pollution” first became part of the vernacular when, in 1972, the US launched its Noise Control Act and the federal government was charged with establishing standards for noise emissions on the grounds that noise, such as that produced by jet aircraft, posed both a physical and mental health hazard, and that noise abatement measures were therefore necessary. If it were only noisy aircraft that posed a risk, the act would have been a success. Instead, it was apparent that anyone who worked in a sufficiently noisy environment risked noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) unless they were provided with suitable custom hearing protection.

Exposure to a noise level of 85 decibels, continuously, for the duration of an eight-hour shift is sufficient to cause irreversible hearing loss. Furthermore, the effect is cumulative. This means that each additional exposure will continue to add to the existing damage until it eventually becomes disabling. The legislation in most industrialised countries, including South Africa, now mandates employers to implement preventative measures. These include steps to limit ambient noise sources, ongoing monitoring of noise levels, and providing their employees with some form of custom ear protection.

The primary choice is between earmuffs and earplugs. However, while the former can be effective under moderately noisy conditions, the fact that these products are worn over the outer ear rather than in it means that they are inherently less effective at excluding ambient noise than the latter. That said, there are many varieties of earplugs and not all of them are suitable for use in the workplace. To be effective, this type of product must meet two important criteria. Firstly, they must fit snugly into the ear canal without any gaps, and secondly, they must protect against loud noise without inhibiting conversation.

Providing employees with custom ear protection begins by tailoring the plugs so that they fit the unique aural contours of each individual wearer exactly. This requires making an impression of both left and right sides from which to prepare the mould in which to form the tailored end product. At the time of fitting them, a leak test should also be conducted in order to ensure that they form an airtight and, therefore, soundproof seal. This is not the end of the story, however.

A solid plug would attenuate all noise and make it necessary to remove at least one plug in order to communicate with fellow workers, thus exposing oneself to the risk of NIHL. Effective custom ear protection, such as that manufactured under the Noise-Ban brand, makes provision for the need to converse with supervisors and co-workers by means of variable attenuation technology. In essence, this allows all noise of a dangerous intensity to be excluded by the plugs, whilst still allowing that at a safe level, such as normal conversation, to be heard. In addition to the leak test, when the plugs are fitted, the attenuation is also adjusted to meet the individual auditory requirements of each wearer.

While this type of product may tick all of the required boxes, to ensure its success, there are some options which, if also introduced, provide a more comprehensive programme of hearing conservation management. For the importance of custom ear protection to be fully appreciated, education regarding the nature and serious consequences of NIHL is essential. From the employer’s viewpoint, it is also important to conduct a baseline audiogram on each worker and to repeat the examination regularly in order to check for any signs of worsening hearing impairment amongst them. Regular monitoring of ambient noise levels is also advisable.

Noise-Ban products are the preferred choice of custom ear protection for most industries in South Africa and the comprehensive hearing conservation management programme offers the hassle-free assurance that their workers should be safe from NIHL.

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