Ear protection refers to the range of devices and manners which an individual utilises to protect their ears from dangerous or harmful external sources, such as cold air, water, debris, or more frequently, high noise levels.
Foreign substances and items entering the ear canal may result in harmful ear infections, while prolonged exposure to high noise levels could manifest itself in devastating long-term hearing loss.
In order to prevent this dangerous and life-altering experience, it is imperative to properly and cautiously protect the hearing of employees in cases in which such occurrences are a liability.
Occupational Health and Safety guidelines dictate the levels of noise reduction which should be applied to create a safe working environment. Generally, this involves reducing the noise level to below 85db for a typical work shift, as this level of sound at an exposure time of eight hours will certainly result in a loss of hearing.
It is important to note that an employer must ensure that a risk assessment is performed by qualified and accredited risk assessment specialists, in order to identify exactly which individuals or departments within the place of work are eligible for or require compulsory ear protection.
During the process of a risk assessment certain positions, locations, and departments will be identified as areas that fall above the actionable dangerous noise levels – individuals who require protection will be pinpointed, and it will be discussed exactly how the protection will be applied and how much protection will be required – all these details being dictated by the specific noise levels and the Occupational health and safety guidelines in affect for that area or industry.
It is imperative, however, to note that there are certain downsides to the use of ear protection. If a person is working in a very noisy area, they might have to wear a hearing protection device with a strong noise reduction level, which might cause them to be unable to hear a warning alarm or a travelling piece of heavy-duty machinery. In other words, that which is then protecting them, may also become a liability, placing them in danger of a different kind. It is therefore quite important that safety measures be put into place to provide visual warning communicational devices to replace solely focusing on that of a purely aural nature. In the same breath, the use of hearing protection may also impair communication, as modern-day humans rely so strongly on speech and hearing that any other form has become obsolete.
There are also, of course the downsides when looking at the specific types of hearing protection. Earplugs, for example, might spread infections from to ear to ear when swapping left and right. And if not inserted correctly, will not apply the necessary noise reduction. Earmuffs, on the other side, provide fantastic protection by applying a strong amount of pressure to the sides of the head, creating a seal around the entire ear. This works fantastically in theory, although in practise has become clear to cause headaches after prolonged use due to the amount of pressure.
As with anything in life, over-use is just as dangerous as under-use. It’s therefore of utmost importance to perform an adequate risk assessment to ensure the safety and longevity of hearing of your employees.