Though small in stature compared to other PPE, hearing protection makes a huge difference in the life of a worker who needs it. And having the right hearing protection makes all the difference in not only your time on the job but your time off the job, too. Luckily, there is more than one kind of hearing protection to ensure you get the best option for your work environment.
According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there are several types of hearing protection that people can wear to help reduce the impact of noisy environments and the risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
Types of hearing protection
Disposable foam earplugs
Arguably the most popular type of hearing protection, these earplugs are made of a formable/moldable foam material that’s designed to expand and conform to the unique shape of each person’s ear canal once inserted.
- How to wear: To insert, first roll the earplug between your thumb and fingers into a thin, crease-free cylinder that’s thin enough to fit easily into your ear canal. Then, reach over your head with one hand to pull up on your ear, while using your other hand to insert. Please note that the earplug must be inserted all the way into the ear canal so that no part of the earplug is sticking out.
- Here’s a video to better understand proper insertion.
- HexArmor® hearing protection offers three sizes of disposable foam earplugs.
Disposable foam earplugs can be found in most drug stores, grocery stores, or PPE supply stores.
Pre-molded, reusable earplugs
Pre-molded earplugs, more commonly referred to as reusable, are made from silicone, plastic, or rubber and are manufactured as either one-size-fits-most or are available in several sizes. Many pre-molded plugs are available in sizes for small, medium, or large ear canals.
A critical tip from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Because the earplugs should offer a secure fit without being uncomfortable, you may need different earplug sizes for each ear. Take time to test various sizes and styles to see what works best for you.
- How to wear: To insert, reach over your head with one hand to pull up on your ear. Then use your other hand to insert the plug with a gentle rocking motion until you have sealed the ear canal.
- HexArmor® hearing protection offers two sizes of reusable earplugs.
Advantages of pre-molded plugs are that they are relatively inexpensive, reusable, washable, convenient to carry, and come in a variety of sizes – helping workers find their most comfortable and effective earplug. Plus, in dirty or dusty environments, reusable earplugs don’t need to be handled or rolled.
Because preventing food contamination is a top priority, many food manufacturing facilities use metal detecting machines that test outgoing product for metal, which is why detectable hearing protection is needed. These can come in a few different forms, including disposable and reusable earplugs.
- How to wear: Follow best practices per type of hearing device found in this blog.
- HexArmor® hearing protection offers several kinds of detectable earplugs:
Detectable earplugs are typically a blue or hi-vis color to contrast against most food products and come with an interior metal detectable component. Using these earplugs is one of the easiest ways to help prevent contamination of food products at a facility.
These are basically earplugs on a flexible plastic or metal band. A more formal description is that canal caps offer formable or pre-molded (disposable or reusable) earplug material that connects to a static or jointed headband that can be worn over the head, behind the neck, or under the chin.
Note that canal caps only close the ear opening and typically do not extend into the ear canal; therefore, protection is not as high as earplugs or earmuffs.
- How to wear: Similar to regular earplugs, pull the outer ear up and back, then insert the tips of the caps into the ear, firmly pushing and wiggling them into place.
These are ideal for situations where hearing protection must be taken on and off frequently. However, not all canal caps have tips that adequately block all types of noise, and they are NOT designed for continuous, long-term wearing.
Earmuffs are made with sound-attenuating material and soft ear cushions that work to block out noise by completely covering the outer ear and use a banded strap to connect the muffs. They are quite adept at muffling sound out and can be used in conjunction with earplugs if more protection is needed from hazardous noise. Several models and styles are available to help ensure proper fit and function, including options with electronic components to help users communicate or to block impulsive noises.
- How to wear: Simply place earmuffs over your head and secure them over your ears. If you are wearing these with the addition of earplugs, make sure those are properly inserted first.
Please note that heavy facial hair or glasses may affect the fit of earmuffs by interfering with the tight seal needed for proper protection against the face. For these workers, a different solution may be needed, such as earplugs.
New innovations by HexArmor®
HexArmor® has some innovative designs for workers needing different options for hearing protection.
Ergonomically-guided earplugs – Because many workers like the comfort of foam earplugs but don’t want to manually roll them in dirty environments or risk taking their gloves off, foam earplugs are also available on a plastic guiding stem or pin. HexArmor's guiding pins are ergonomically shaped like an ear canal for comfort and fit and come complete with left and right denoted paddles for easy grip. Plus, the earplugs on the end are replaceable.
- How to wear: You insert guided earplugs much like a pre-molded earplug without having to roll the foam. Grip the left and right denoted paddles and insert them into each respective ear. The guided pin will make insertion much easier and faster than non-guided earplugs.
- Learn more about simpleFit® earplugs
Speech-perceiving earplugs – When workers don’t need the full protection of most earplugs, this earplug rates at a lower attenuation and allows spoken word to be heard – which can be a huge advantage depending on the work environment. With strategic and integrated cavities in the direction of the eardrum, these earplugs provide softer acoustics and absorb disruptive noises, but allow excellent speech perception.
- How to wear: Insertion is the same as other disposable earplugs. First roll the earplug between your thumb and fingers into a thin, crease-free cylinder that’s thin enough to fit easily into your ear canal. Then, reach over your head with one hand to pull up on your ear, while using your other hand to insert. Please note that the earplug must be inserted all the way into the ear canal as such that no part of the earplug is sticking out.
- Here’s a video to better understand proper insertion.
- Learn more about safeComm® earplugs
Not sure what you need? HexArmor® can help
With all these options available, the best hearing device is the one that not only provides proper protection against the hazardous noise level(s) in your environment but that also makes sense with your application and offers all-day comfort and compliance on the job.
There are several factors to consider when choosing which earplug or earmuff technology is right for you, which is why HexArmor® offers a variety of hearing safety information as well as varying levels of hearing protection so you can be properly protected for your specific application and environment.