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Choose the correct hearing protection for your workforce

08 March 2023

AN IMPORTANT task for those in charge of health and safety in any organisation is ensuring that employees working in noisy areas have the correct level of PPE to ensure that their hearing, and their general safety isn’t being put at risk in the workplace.

Hearing PPE mostly consists of ear defenders and ear plugs. But how do these defenders and plugs work to protect a person’s hearing? And how do you know if you’re providing the correct level of protection for the environment?

In the case of ear defenders, the protection comes from the acoustic foam that covers the ears. This foam absorbs sound energy by increasing air resistance and reducing the amplitude of sound waves. The process of losing sound energy is called attenuation, and it is the attenuation data that you need to look at when selecting hearing PPE.

You can also find attenuating ear plugs that offer good levels of protection. 

There are some cases where ear defenders and ear plugs may be required, such as in extremely high noise areas.

The important thing to remember, is that you don’t want to overprotect, or under-protect your workforce.

Reducing noise and avoiding overprotection

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), protectors that reduce the level at the ear to below 70dB should be avoided, since this over-protection may cause difficulties with communication and hearing warning signals in the workplace. 

If your employees are being overprotected from the noise surrounding them, they may become isolated from their environment. This can lead to safety risks, as users are more likely to then remove the hearing protection and therefore risk damage to their hearing. 

There are a number of different methods for selecting the right hearing protection for your workforce, one of which is using Octave Band Filters.

Using Octave Band Filters to select the right level of protection

Using 1:1 Octave Bands to select the correct level of PPE for your workforce is the most accurate way of measuring the effectiveness of hearing protection. This method estimates the sound level at the ear, considering the frequency content of the noise. 

When it comes to using this method, you will need a noise monitoring instrument that is capable of measuring noise at octave bands centre frequency, such as the Optimus Red sound level meter with 1:1 Octave bands, or the doseBadge5 Personal Noise Dosimeter, both from Cirrus Research. 

How Cirrus Research can help

Cirrus Research provide a selection of noise monitoring instruments that use 1:1 Octave Bands. 

Both the Optimus Red and the doseBadge5 Personal Noise Dosimeter can measure 1:1 Octave Bands, providing you with all the information you need for the measurement, analysis and control of occupational noise exposure. 

We recommend the doseBadge5 to confirm the problematic areas/tools or tasks in your workplace, and then follow this up with the sound level meter for in-person data capture, and to get a full understanding of the noise source. By using both instruments in conjunction with each other, users can ensure that they’re getting everything they need for successful analysis and PPE selection.

The Safety Officer’s Kit from Cirrus Research is an easy way to purchase and store both instruments together.

Analysing your data and selecting appropriate PPE

With the Cirrus Research analysis software, NoiseTools, which is free with every instrument, there is a separate tab that colour codes a large range of hearing defence products suitable for use within your environment. This information is selected from the measurement data that is provided from your instruments, and removes any human error when selecting the right product.

Users can also use the time history tab within the NoiseTools software to select and highlight the loudest part of the noise measurement, and view a colour coded list of hearing defenders based solely on that measurement.

An example of hearing protection recommendations shown for a sample of data selected.

Finally, you can produce hearing defender reports that can be printed and stored for future use.

In summary, by choosing to use Cirrus Research instrumentation in your workplace, you’re also choosing to ensure you’re purchasing the correct hearing defence product for your team without wasting money on unsuitable PPE. You’re choosing to have confidence in selecting the correct hearing defenders, as our NoiseTools software makes it easier to know which options are right for you, and you’re choosing to save time and money.

For more information, visit www.cirrusresearch.com