1.3: Hearing Protection
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Some types of hearing protection include:
- Single-use Earplugs – Single-use earplugs are made of waxed cotton, foam, silicone rubber or fiberglass wool. They are self-forming and, when properly inserted, they work as well as most molded earplugs.
- Molded Earplugs – Pre-formed or molded earplugs must be individually fitted by a professional and can be disposable or reusable. Reusable plugs should be cleaned after each use.
- Earmuffs – Require a perfect seal around the ear. Glasses, facial hair, long hair or facial movements such as chewing may reduce the protective value of earmuffs.
Note: Audio headphones and earbuds are not approved devices for hearing protection.
Determining the need to provide hearing protection for employees can be challenging. Employee exposure to excessive noise depends upon a number of factors, including:
- The loudness of the noise as measured in decibels (dB).
- The duration of each employee’s exposure to the noise.
- Whether employees move between work areas with different noise levels.
- Whether noise is generated from one or multiple sources.
Generally, the louder the noise, the shorter the exposure time before hearing protection is required. For instance, employees may be exposed to a noise level of 90 dB for 8 hours per day (unless they experience a Standard Threshold Shift) before hearing protection is required. On the other hand, if the noise level reaches 115 dB hearing protection is required if the anticipated exposure exceeds 15 minutes. Common hearing injuries associated with noise levels in the construction and maintenance industry include both temporary and permanent partial to total hearing loss, and tinnitus (ringing in the ear).
For a more detailed discussion of the requirements for a comprehensive hearing conservation program, see OSHA Publication 3074 (2002), “Hearing Conservation” or refer to the OSHA standard at 29 CFR 1910.95, Occupational Noise Exposure, section (c).
Table 5, below, shows the permissible noise exposures that require hearing protection for employees exposed to occupational noise at specific decibel levels for specific time periods. Noises are considered continuous if the interval between occurrences of the maximum noise level is one second or less. Noises not meeting this definition are considered impact or impulse noises (loud momentary explosions of sound) and exposures to this type of noise must not exceed 140 dB. Examples of situations or tools that may result in impact or impulse noises are powder-actuated nail guns, a punch press or drop hammers.
|Duration per day (hrs)||Sound level (dB*)|
|1/4 or less||115|
If engineering and work practice controls do not lower employee exposure to workplace noise to acceptable levels, employees must wear appropriate hearing protection. It is important to understand that hearing protectors reduce only the amount of noise that gets through to the ears. The amount of this reduction is referred to as attenuation, which differs according to the type of hearing protection used and how well it fits. Hearing protectors worn by employees must reduce an employee’s noise exposure to within the acceptable limits noted in Table 5. Refer to Appendix B of 29 CFR 1910.95, Occupational Noise Exposure, for detailed information on methods to estimate the attenuation effectiveness of hearing protectors based on the device’s noise reduction rating (NRR). Manufacturers of hearing protection devices must display the device’s NRR on the product packaging. If employees are exposed to occupational noise at or above 85 dB averaged over an eight-hour period, the employer is required to institute a hearing conservation program that includes regular testing of employees’ hearing by qualified professionals. Refer to 29 CFR 1910.95(c) for a description of the requirements for a hearing conservation program.
Hearing Protection Self-Check