Page 55 - OHS, November/December 2021
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However, professionals undertaking the monitoring should be trained and prepared suffifficiently with the right equipment as minor errors in noise level estimates can lead to major errors in exposure calculations.
Two pieces of equipment essential for the assessment are the sound level meter, primarily designed as a hand-held device used by an operator, and the noise dosimeter, which a staff member wears for their working shift. A sound level meter is an ideal solution for measuring the overall noise level of a task, piece of machinery or area. On the other hand, dosimeters are best for personal noise measurements where it is difficult or unsafe to get close to employees with a sound-level meter because dosimeters are smaller and body-mounted. For example, a dosimeter would be ideal for forklift truck drivers exposed to many different noise levels and irregular working patterns.
If an assessment establishes that noise levels pose a risk to workers, hearing protection should be supplied immediately while other more permanent solutions are implemented.
Selecting Hearing Protection
When selecting hearing protection, the attenuation level is key and noise levels at the ear must be reduced so that exposure is below 85dB(A) TWA. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has published three methods for calculating the attenuation of hearing protectors, but ensuring real world protection is essential by making sure people wear the protector for all of their shift. To encourage all-day wear, employers should consider five critical factors.
Comfort. Removing PPE, even for short periods, has a significant effect on exposure. Therefore, it is crucial that hearing protection is comfortable to increase worker acceptance and support the likelihood of all-day wear. Employers should avoid a “one size fits all” approach to hearing protection because the shape and size of the ear canal varies from person to person. A protector that fits well for one employee may overprotect some workers or be uncomfortable for others. OSHA recommends having a suitable selection of hearing protection available so that employees can make a choice that best supports their individual needs.
Custom-made plugs made from silicone and moulded to an individual’s ear offer the ultimate solution to maximize comfort. Although expensive to initially acquire, employees are more likely to take care of their “own” unique plug, increasing the product lifetime. In addition, the demonstration of care for individual safety can boost employee retention and productivity, as the more valued employees feel at work, the more engaged they are.
Relationship with Other PPE. The interaction of hearing protection with other PPE that may need to be worn is a significant factor. For example, an employee wearing prescription or safety glasses will not obtain an adequate fit from a standard ear muff, so plugs or semi-inserts may be more suitable. In working environments where hard hats are worn regularly, a hard hat with built-in hearing defenders should be considered.
Having a documented hearing protection “fit test” with other equipment worn on the job can increase the likelihood of selecting the appropriate hearing protection and increase employee accountability by minimizing justifications for removing protection at work.
Despite the risk of irreversible damage to health, one-third of noise-exposed workers report not wearing hearing protection.
with PPE because the process of reducing sound, known as attenuation, can pose risks to worker health. If a protector with too little attenuation is used then employees will not receive enough protection. However, too much noise reduction can create feelings of isolation, and an employee may need to remove their PPE to communicate. In addition, over-attenuation can cut out safety warnings such as fire alarms or sirens from reversing vehicles, resulting in further risks to workers. As a general rule of thumb, businesses can avoid over-protecting workers by ensuring the level of exposure is not reduced to a level below 75dB(A).
The Environment. A business’ unique working environment also impacts the best protector choice. For example, hot, humid conditions can make earmuffs uncomfortable to wear, while dusty environments can cause hygiene problems. In dusty workplaces, it is crucial to keep the hands clean when inserting protective plugs to avoid ear infections.
The Individual. It is also advisable to consider the individual and ascertain any history of ear problems such as irritation or earache, as earmuffs that fit over the outer ear may be preferable to avoid medical complications. Other individual preferences such as hair and jewellery affect the choice of hearing protection. For example, long hair that flows over the ears will cause earmuffs to fit inadequately, significantly reducing the protection’s effectiveness.
All Angles
It is important to look at a workplace from all angles to ensure the most effective hearing protection is selected. When you take into account all the elements mentioned in this article, the likelihood of workers developing a better relationship with their hearing protection increases. When workers are more likely to wear their PPE, they are more likely to walk away from the job healthy.
Tim Turney is the Global Marketing Manager at Casella. REFERENCES
1. s12199-020-00906-0
2. much-noise
Communication. Communication can be a major issue NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021 | Occupational Health & Safety 51

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