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Hearing Protection Why And When It Matters In The Workplace

Hearing Protection Why And When It Matters In The Workplace

Feb 16 2024 at 09:48

The CDC states that millions of employees potentially get exposed to harmful noise every year, which leads to hearing loss. As a preventable condition, employers are responsible for ensuring their workforce is equipped with appropriate hearing protection to prevent dangerous workplace accidents. Read on for an overview of hearing protection in the workplace and the key requirements to keep your workers safe.


OSHA standards for occupational noise exposure

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 stipulates that providing workers with hearing protection is necessary when noise levels are above an average of 85 decibels (dB) per eight hours. If sounds exceed 85 dB for less than this time, hearing protection is also necessary. For instance, exposure to noise levels of 100 dB need only occur for two hours to reach the hearing protection threshold.

One way to determine if noise in the workplace is over the safe threshold is when employees have to raise their voices to speak to someone 3 feet away. Moreover, noise may be excessive if employees experience humming or ringing in the ears or suffer temporary hearing loss after leaving work.

As per standard 1910.95(c), employers that manage workplaces with loud noise exposure are required to create and administer a hearing conservation programme. This programme must include audiometric testing of employees, employee notification of monitoring results, and sound monitoring. Testing includes a baseline and annual test to determine if employees suffer any impairment or loss of hearing over time.


Who should wear hearing protection?

All employees, especially those with current hearing loss or impairment, who are exposed to more than 85 dB of noise for over eight hours need hearing protection. Employers must provide these workers with a variety of hearing protection devices (HPDs) and let them choose which works best for their needs and preferences. In addition, employers must also train employees on how to use and care for these devices, which may cover the consequences of neglecting to wear them on the job, the advantages and disadvantages of each HPD, and the purpose of having them take audiometric testing.


Qualities of effective hearing protection

HPDs are designed to mitigate the level of sound that reaches the eardrums to below 85 dB. However, they should only be used as a last resort to protect your employees’ hearing when administrative and engineering controls are not feasible or do not work. The former reduces worker exposure to loud noise by cutting down their work hours or the amount of time a piece of equipment is active in the workplace, while the latter modifies said equipment to reduce their noise output.

All HPDs have a noise reduction rating or NRR that quantifies the amount of noise reduction they provide. It is important to note these ratings are known to differ in real-world scenarios compared to the laboratory where they are measured. Hence, NIOSH recommends reducing the NRR of various HPDs by the following:

  • Earmuffs: less 25%
  • Moldable earplugs: less 50%
  • Other earplugs: less 75%

For example, if a moldable earplug is rated to have a 32 dB noise reduction, its actual performance may be closer to 16 dB.


Types of noise protection

Hearing protection is generally classified into three types: earplugs, earmuffs, and ear canal caps.

  • Earmuffs

These are made to be worn externally and fully cover the ears, hence why they are considered to offer the best noise protection. Earmuffs typically feature soft cushions combined with a sound-attenuating material that are held together via a headband.

  • Earplugs

As its name implies, earplugs are designed to be worn or plugged inside the ear canals and are available in moldable and non-moldable varieties. Most earplugs are typically made of silicone or foam and are either disposable or reusable.

  • Ear canal caps

Unlike earplugs, ear canal caps or semi-inserts are not meant to be fully inserted into the ear but rather just stay in place over the ear canal with the help of a headband that connects the two caps. Because of the way they work, semi-inserts offer less hearing protection compared to the other two and do not always work for everyone. Thus, their application is limited to situations where one needs to take their hearing protection on and off on a frequent basis.


Choosing the right hearing protection

The most effective type of hearing protection is the one that workers willingly and consistently wear. Employers can thus ensure each employee is equipped with the best hearing protection by allowing them to experiment with a variety of HPDs, learn their proper usage, and spend time with them to find the best one that is suited for their job and environment. Rigger and signalman courses will cover this portion to ensure safety in the workplace with noise pollution.

According to the American Industrial Hygiene Association, several factors influence worker acceptance of hearing protection and increase the likelihood that they will wear their HPD consistently:

  • Convenience and comfort
  • Compatibility with other basic PPE
  • Availability
  • Ease of fit
  • Proper training on usage
  • Confidence in the device’s hearing protection capabilities
  • The belief that the device will prevent the worker from hearing important sounds



Some noise is perfectly acceptable and normal in any workplace. However, if sound levels are too high and stay that way for long periods of time, employees have a high risk of experiencing some degree of hearing loss. By providing the right hearing protection and making sure everyone wears their HPDs at all times, organisations can better guarantee their workplace won’t see any noise-related injuries anytime soon.

Ensure your workforce is knowledgeable about the risks of loud noise exposure and other hidden dangers in the workplace by signing them up for Wong Fong Academy’s workplace safety courses. Driven by our commitment to promoting workplace safety across industries, we provide quality training courses that keep your employees updated on the latest best practices on how to stay safe on the job. Whether it is reviewing the basics or learning new skills, such as rigger and signalman courses in Singapore, we have all the courses you need to upskill your employees.