February 8, 2021

Earmuffs or earplugs? Disposable or reusable? And what about decibel level?

Protecting your hearing is imperative, and we get it – choosing the right hearing protection can be difficult!

There are several things your protection should be doing for you, including:

  • Being able to provide adequate protection
  • Being compatible with other required personal protective equipment or communication devices
  • Being comfortable and convenient enough to be accepted and worn

To help, we’ve compiled the following tips to help you select the right hearing protection.

1. Find out what level of protection you need

What is the hazardous noise level in your workplace? Knowing this is your first step in finding the hearing protection device (HPD) that will be able to provide adequate protection.

Hearing protection is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) if the noise level at the workplace exceeds 85 decibels (dB)A for an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA) period. Learn more about hearing standards here.

If you do not know the noise levels at your worksite, you can measure them with sound-measuring instruments; an easy one to use is this Sound Level Meter app from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

NIOSH suggests that most industrial noise exposures are less than 95 dBA, which means most workers require no more than about 10 dB of noise reduction to meet the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit of 85 dBA. NIOSH recommends aiming for just enough noise reduction to bring your exposure down to 75-85 dBA.

Though louder environments demand higher levels of noise reduction, make sure to not overprotect your ears, or in other words, don’t reduce sound too much. Overprotection can be detrimental to safety by causing you to be less aware of your surroundings; you could accidentally miss the sound of a warning alarm or a moving vehicle coming your way. This could also prompt you to take out your HPD to hear someone speak, thereby exposing you to hazardous noise.

To go a step further, aiming to reduce noise exposure to 70-80 dBA can help enable speech recognition and avoid overprotection.

  • Pro tip: In addition to providing adequate communication and audibility needs, the wear time of the HPD must be strictly adhered to while in high-risk zones; if not worn correctly or continuously, hearing can slowly become damaged over time due to the diminished levels of protection.

2. Make sure protection is right for the application

Depending on your application, you may need hearing protection that accommodates other specific job requirements. Here are some specific questions to get you started:

Do you work in food-related applications? Many food manufacturing facilities require that HPDs must be a blue or hi-vis color to contrast against most food products and come with an interior metal detectable component to help prevent food contamination.

Are you required to use other above-the-neck PPE? Taking into consideration your other PPE needs should always be at the top of the list. If you’re wearing a safety helmet, safety eyewear, or otherwise, components can often interfere with each other, such as earmuffs hampering the fit of safety helmets, and safety eyewear obstructing the tight seal of earmuffs. Everything must seamlessly work together to help you stay protected.

  • Pro tip: Using a fully integrated PPE system is your best bet for staying comfortable and compliant, and all of HexArmor’s PPE can be used together.

Are you wearing gloves on the job or do your hands get dirty? Especially if your earplugs must be put in and taken out several times a day and/or you don’t have time to wash your hands, avoid using earplugs that must be rolled down with your fingers before insertion.

Do you work in a tight or confined space? Earmuffs can be bulky and may not be the best option when working in a confined area due to the generally higher clearance when compared to earplugs.

Is your work environment significantly hot or cold? This is one element of HPDs that is often forgotten. Earmuffs can be uncomfortable in hot environments, and the cushions can become ineffective in very cold environments.

3. Ensure proper fit

The effectiveness of your hearing protection is greatly reduced if the HPD does not fit properly, is worn only periodically, or is removed even for a short period of time – which all comes down to finding protection that offers all-day comfort, convenience, and compliance.

Comfort – Not all earplugs are created equal. Ill-fitting HPDs, such as too-large earplugs or straight-pinned guides, can be irritating and sometimes painful, prompting you to take out and reinsert to alleviate pressure. Look for earplug styles that are able to best match your ear canal size.

  • Pro tip: HexArmor® challenges the “one-size-fits-all” earplug mentality to offer feature-packed earplug families with various sizes, tapered structures, oval-shaped openings, and scientifically-designed channels for a custom, low-pressure fit.

Convenience – Finding an HPD that matches your application, is readily available, and is easy to use can make all the difference in helping you stay comfortable and compliant. Earplugs with a corded or guided option help keep protection readily available and easy to insert. Additional earplug accessory options, such as a wall-mounted dispenser, help make earplugs easily accessible to workers.

  • Pro tip: HexArmor® hearing protection offers several types of corded and ergonomically-guided earplugs. Additionally, we offer a wall-mounted dispenser with a magnetic backing that can be placed on any metallic surface for fast and easy access to a pair of earplugs with a quick turn.

Compliance – HPDs that stay in place for the full duration of your time in an at-risk environment per OSHA’s guidelines means you’re compliant. Not only is it beneficial to your company, but you and your workers’ hearing will stay protected, helping keep your hearing and overall health intact.

  • Pro tip: Full protective benefits occur only with proper fit and continuous use of your hearing protection when in noise environments, and the more comfortable and convenient, the more an HPD will be worn.

Not sure what you need?

With all of these tips to consider, we know it can still be difficult in choosing which earplug or earmuff technology is right for you.

We’re here to help. Browse our lineup of hearing protection options or contact one of our Solutions Specialists today at 1.877.MY.ARMOR or visit www.hexarmor.com.