The Best Form of Hearing Protection and Why It’s EssentialWhy has access to the best hearing protection become so important in recent years? Today, our ears are assailed by a wider variety of noises and at greater volumes than at any time in the past. Unfortunately, the effects of this are to be seen in the unprecedented incidence of noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL. Not only has NIHL now become one of the most common reasons for workers to pursue a claim for industrial injury, but noise is now also the single most common cause of hearing loss among the general population worldwide. Given the extent to which humans rely, either consciously or unconsciously, on their ability to hear and interpret sounds, everyone who may be exposed to the risk of NIHL should have access to the best form of hearing protection available.
The first step in limiting the risk of NIHL must be to recognise what constitutes a risk. Sound is measured in units known as decibels and the measurements are arranged over a logarithmic scale in which each increase of approximately 3 dB results in a doubling of the perceived intensity of sound. A person breathing normally corresponds to around 10 dB, rustling leaves clock up about 20 dB, and a normal conversation will generate something between 50 and 60 dB. The danger levels begin at around 85 dB, as eight hours of continuous exposure to this is regarded as the threshold for safety. Any longer or any louder and you had best make sure to arrange some suitably effective hearing protection.
For employees in their workplace, there are now strict health and safety rules regarding the permitted levels of noise to which workers may be exposed to, thus defining the need for employers to provide protective measures for those exposed to potentially dangerous levels. In our homes and on the streets, however, such regulation is, respectively, either impossible or extremely difficult to enforce. It is, therefore, important for each of us to be aware of the various threats posed to our hearing in these common, everyday locations.
When tidying up the lawn with a lawnmower, for example, you could be generating as much as 95 dB. Should you spend more than an hour on this task without the best possible hearing protection, this could result in irreversible damage to the hair cells in the cochlea. These are the cells responsible for the conversion of soundwaves into nerve impulses for onward transmission to the auditory cortices in the brain where they would normally be interpreted. Attend a rock concert or listen to a portable music device through earbuds on full volume and you could be subjecting your ears to a massive 115 dB – enough to cause permanent damage in just 30 seconds. Stand within 25 metres of a jet at take-off and the 150 dB engine noise could rupture you eardrums instantly.
Having identified a few of the potential dangers, it is now an appropriate time to consider what might be the best form of hearing protection to counter them. To some degree, this will depend upon the circumstances and the level of noise to which one is likely to be exposed. For example, if heading to the shooting range to fire a few practice rounds, the standard ear defenders normally available for this purpose are likely to be quite adequate for the average visit. However, should your job require you to spend long periods in an environment where the sound levels consistently exceed the safety threshold, then a more effective and longer-standing solution will definitely be necessary.
In the working environment, particularly, total attenuation of sound would be impractical and possibly even dangerous, so only a device that is able to provide selective attenuation could be considered as the best possible type of hearing protection. When tailored to fit each ear individually, earplugs with an adjustable attenuator offer those at risk the ideal solution. The tailored fit rules out the possibility of sound leakage, while the attenuator can be adjusted to exclude any sounds of an intensity that might pose a threat to one’s hearing whilst, at the same time, permitting the wearer to hear subtler sounds, such as spoken instructions from a supervisor or just informal chat from colleagues.
For the best available option, H.A.S.S. Industrial offers a range of world-class, tailored earplugs for hearing protection under its Noise-Ban banner. They form part of a comprehensive hearing conservation management programme that protects employees and employers alike.