When should hearing protection be worn and what level do I need?
It’s a simple question, but do we actually know when hearing protection should be worn? It should be worn at all times in a noisy environment, but what do you class as a ‘noisy environment’? Well, according to The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 it states ear protection must be both provided and worn when you’re at risk of being exposed to noise that is greater than 85 dB(A).
We can hear the next question coming already: Why 85db(A)? It’s been agreed by hearing professionals that that is the limit our ears can tolerate. If we are exposed to anything above 85dB(A) for a long period of time (greater than 2 hours) it can damage our ears. Effects of exposure to high levels of occupational noise include hearing impairment, hearing loss, tinnitus, harmful effects on any pregnant worker’s unborn child, increased blood pressure, and increased stress levels. (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). A study by medical professionals at the University Medical Centre of the Johannes Gutenberg University even links exposure to high noise levels with anxiety and depression. This really goes to show the importance of wearing the correct level of ear protection.
What level of protection do I need?
To identify the level of protection needed the noise levels in the workplace must first be measured. To obtain an accurate noise assessment, full octave band sound analysis should be carried out and then matched with the attenuation values offered by the various kinds of hearing protectors available. In order to simplify the selection procedure, a single number rating (SNR) is given as a guide for each model of hearing protector but this should mainly be used for comparison purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for doing a full frequency analysis in noise critical areas. If using the SNR to establish which hearing protector is suitable, it can be done by subtracting the SNR from the actual noise being produced. For example, if the noise level in a particular environment has a weighted noise measurement of 100db(A) and the hearing protection has an SNR of 30db, when and if the hearing protection is worn correctly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions the noise level will be reduced to 70db(A).
Hearing protection SNR rating colour guide