Are you sure your earplugs are working? It never hurts to doublecheck… but it does hurt never to check.
Workers that use poor-fitting earplugs – regardless of brand – will not receive adequate levels of protection, putting them at serious risk of losing their hearing, and hearing loss is permanent.
That’s why measuring the attenuation and effectiveness of hearing protection devices with a Hearing Protection Fit-Test System is crucial to ensure workers are protected and utilizing properly-fitted earplugs.
What does it mean for hearing protection to be a “good fit”? Simply put, any hearing protection that provides you with an adequate and expected level of protection is a good fit. However, multiple elements influence the fit of your hearing protection – size, shape, and insertion.
Something as simple as the proper insertion of your earplug – like this – may be the difference between a good or bad fit, protecting or not protecting your hearing. Or you may need a different earplug entirely. These are simple solutions, but you would never know without fit testing each and every worker.
Here are four reasons why you should take a closer look at fit-testing your workers:
1. Identify workers at risk for hearing loss
By utilizing a fit-testing device, you can measure the attenuation achieved by the hearing protection every worker uses and – most importantly – identify workers that are NOT appropriately protected.
There are many reasons that a worker may not be protected, but most commonly, poorly fitting in terms of size and shape and poorly inserted earplugs are the culprit. Workers that are not protected will be at risk of occupational Noice Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
NIHL can be immediate, or it can take years to become apparent. It can be temporary or permanent, and it can affect one ear or both ears. And unfortunately, hearing damage can go unnoticed – until it isn’t.
The good news is that NIHL is preventable with proper protection and early identification.
2. Get your workers in the “right earplug”
The “right earplug” is the one that provides you with the protection you need, and oftentimes, the right earplug may look different for different people.
Depending on the workplace, an earplug may be chosen solely due to its Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), but NRR doesn’t tell the whole story. NRR does not accurately reflect the attenuation achieved by every worker; rather, it is a generic lab-based estimate of what could be achieved.
This provides a theoretical means by which to compare hearing protection, but it carries some caveats.
This is where PAR comes in. PAR is a worker’s Personal Attenuation Rating, and it’s what is measured by a fit-testing device. The PAR measurement helps safety managers understand and identify the exact attenuation a worker is receiving from their current hearing protection.
This information is vital to confirm if said hearing protection is appropriate for the environment or to help you select hearing protection that will actually keep workers safe – which is the ultimate goal of a fit-testing device.
Some personalized fit-testing devices are open systems, meaning a Personal Attenuation Rating will be identified for each earplug tested regardless of their brand. Open systems allow a better opportunity for the best earplug to be selected per worker, keeping them as safe as possible.
3. Measure the effectiveness of your hearing safety program
Because adequate hearing protection is mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), your workplace should already have a Hearing Conservation Program in place.
These are required when workers are exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average of at least 85 decibels to protect workers from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) – and failure to do so may result in millions paid in compensation to affected workers.
A fit-testing system is a perfect tool to help support your hearing safety program, measure its success, and can even help you stay organized all year long.
Some systems are also able to house your program information, including who has been tested, when, and what their results were.
If you don’t have a Hearing Conservation Program, no sweat – here’s a quick guide to start.
4. Provide an easy-to-use training tool to educate workers
Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to insert your earplug hearing protection. Helping workers understand not only why they need proper hearing protection but how to insert it is critical.
When not inserted correctly, the effectiveness of an earplug is compromised. This means that the wearer won’t be getting the full amount of protection needed to mitigate damage to their hearing over time.
Full protective benefits occur only with proper wear (proper size/shape + correct insertion) – and wearing time – of your hearing protection.
A fit-test system can help. In addition to workers being able to literally hear how the right earplug and proper insertion helps protect their hearing, you can take the opportunity to discuss and refresh them on your hearing safety program, support initiatives, OSHA regulations, types of hearing protectors, and more.
5. [Bonus] Why HexArmor’s xact Fit™ hearing protection fit-test system is the best open system on the market
In addition to all the above, xact Fit™ by HexArmor® delivers fast, easy, and accurate fit-testing results to help ensure workers are getting the proper fit + the right attenuation, regardless of brand or model of earplugs.
Here’s why we think you’ll like it:
- High portability, with cordless Bluetooth headphones and a tablet that you can use anywhere – complete with a carrying case.
- Easy setup includes pre-installed software and cloud storage, which allows for the automatic upload of information and results, easy access to files on multiple devices, and increased security.
- Accurate test method, focusing on a mix of low frequencies (200 – 800 Hz) to better detect sound leaks from poorly fitted or low-quality earplugs.
- Quick testing of 2-5 minutes total through the Real Ear Attenuation at Threshold (REAT), giving highly accurate results and assistance in choosing the right earplug.
- Universal earplug capability is super helpful in finding an earplug that’s comfortable, convenient, and compliant – regardless of brand.
More about the test: Users undergo a series of tests to determine their Hearing Threshold score (the lowest volume at which a sound can be detected), both with and without hearing protection. This is different for every person.
The difference between the two scores determines a user’s Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR), which represents the amount of protection they are receiving based on earplug design and/or how they fit their earplug.
HexArmor® can help
With all these factors to consider, we know it can still be difficult to approach your hearing protection needs, which is why HexArmor® is here to help.
We offer a variety of hearing safety information as well as a multitude of hearing protection products in different sizes, shapes, and NRR so you can be properly protected for your specific application and environment.
Let us know if you need help finding what you need or if you're ready to start a trial - our Solution Specialists are ready to work with you. Call 1.877.MY ARMOR or send us a message.