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Ear Protection

The Various Types of Ear Protection and Their Relative Merits

  There are a several reasons why we may require some form of ear protection to shield ourselves from unwanted noise. For example, many people experience difficulty in sleeping, perhaps because of a partner’s tendency to snore, or simply because they are “light sleepers” and are easily awakened by even the faintest of sounds.   In the workplace, the nature of an individual’s job could see him or her exposed to excessive levels of noise for prolonged periods, and on a daily basis. In such cases, it is not loss of sleep that will concern them, but loss of hearing. Swimmers, especially those that make use of public pools, run the risk of ear infections and like the light sleepers and those in noisy occupations, will benefit from some form of ear protection.

To counter the problems caused by ambient noise, there are essentially two options, one of which may also be used to exclude the entry of potentially infected water. The choice is between earplugs and earmuffs. The latter are sometimes referred to as ear defenders, while the plugs may be offered either as a pair made up of separate units or, like earmuffs, in the form of a single assembly in which they are connected by a headband.

The muffs or defenders, if of a reasonable quality, can be very effective in excluding ambient noise. However, where the noise levels are extreme, they lack the power of earplugs. In addition, this form of ear protection will often be subject to two other possible drawbacks. While a good pair of earmuffs may well be very effective in excluding unwanted noise, they also interfere with conversation, and communication between employees can often be crucial for operational efficiency, as well as for safety in the workplace. To overcome this, some models now include wireless transceivers, and although this is a distinct benefit, it adds to their cost, while failing to improve their overall protective properties. The second disadvantage is that by covering the entire ear, they promote heat which, in an already hot environment, can lead to severe discomfort.

Earplugs are far superior in terms of the level of protection they are capable of providing. However, these can also pose problems if not chosen with care, used only in the manner recommended, and in those specific applications for which they were designed.

For the insomniacs, the degree of muffling required is comparatively small. While those who must live with it may think otherwise, snoring hardly compares with the output of a pneumatic press or a jackhammer. Once the bedtime conversation is over, snores and other extraneous noises are easily excluded with a set of cheap earplugs from the local pharmacy, although some users may need a louder alarm clock.

In fact, as ear protection goes, earplugs are about as good as it gets. However, as is the case with most products, quality remains an important factor in determining their efficiency. The problem with over-the-counter products is that they are unlikely to provide a perfect fit. If they are too tight, they can become uncomfortable, and when too loose, this allows them to become dislodged far too easily. For those who are prepared to spend a little extra, there are softer materials that are more malleable and that are able to adjust more readily to the unique architecture of the wearer’s ear. A good fit is, of course, equally important to both the light sleepers and the swimmers.

So why not use this type of ear protection in the workplace as a defence against the growing incidence of noise-induced hearing loss? In practice, there are at least two good reasons why this is not such a good idea. Firstly, despite the tendency to mould, they neither provide the perfect fit necessary in such extremely noisy environments, nor the degree of comfort and stability essential to those who must wear them for long periods of time. This requires units moulded to the precise contours of each ear, based on actual impressions.

Secondly, since the resulting fit excludes all sound, essential communication would be impossible.

Fortunately, H.A.S.S Industrial offers custom-made devices in South Africa that combine exceptional ear protection with unequalled comfort and freedom of communication under the Noise-Ban banner. If required, the customised devices can form part of a comprehensive hearing conservation management programme.

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