Hearing loss is preventable. Why, then, is it still so common? NIOSH notes that occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. And according to OSHA, approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise on the job.
âNoise-induced hearing loss is generally a gradual and painless process, so many workers donât consider it a hazard â¦ until itâs too late,â said Katie Mielcarek, marketing manager for Cleveland-based Gateway Safety Inc. Mielcarek went on to say that workers donât wear hearing protection for many reasons, including discomfort, poor fit and problems with compliance monitoring and trouble inserting earplugs.
Here, industry insiders discuss whatâs new and offer advice on hearing protection.
âElectronic muffs contain the latest technology designed to protect against environments with impulse noises,â said Eric Moreno, market manager for Cranberry Township, PA-based MSA. âThe technology amplifies weak sounds while compressing dangerous noises to a predetermined safe level of 82 dB or lower.â Moreno said this allows face-to-face communication and lets workers hear important sounds, such as warning signals.
Gary Klee, product manager for above-the-neck products at Latham, NY-based Protective Industrial Products Inc., pointed to a âlevel-dependent systemâ available with electronic earmuffs. This system has microphones in both ear cups to help limit sounds reproduced through the internal speakers to a safe level, which âallows communication with others while remaining protected against impulsive or hazardous noise,â Klee said.
Ricardo Allamelou, COO for Miami Lakes, FL-based Cotral Lab Inc., said providing every worker with the exact same type of hearing protection doesnât make sense. âThe protection has to be personalized since overprotection is as dangerous as no protection at all,â he said.
According to Moreno, âOverprotecting can actually increase the danger to a personâs life because this can hinder their ability to hear relevant noises such as warning signals, moving vehicles, other workers, etc.â To reduce the chance of overprotecting, Moreno recommends thoroughly understanding the level of noise in every area of the workplace to determine what level of protection each area needs.
Additionally, be sure your hearing protection is independently, third-party tested to verify noise reduction ratings, Mielcarek said. âThis helps communicate quality in an industry where many manufacturers simply mark their products with a standard or a rating, without the testing to back it up.â