By Rehan Iqbal
You can find two primary types of hearing protection devices, including earmuffs and earplugs. Both are used to protect your ears from hearing damage. In most cases, you are required to wear them in workplaces where noise levels can go 85 decibels or more.Earplugs are designed to form a seal within the ear canal so that loud noises don’t reach your cochlea.
Earplugs hold many advantages because they don’t interfere with your headgear, are lightweight, and are not expensive. You can find molded or self-forming earplugs. The self-forming plugs fit into any size ear and are designed to be used once and then thrown away. Molded earplugs are reusable, custom designed to fit a particular ear, and should be cleaned after each use.
Earmuffs, on the other hand, cover your outer ear but form a seal. They also have a variety of benefits and might be more suitable than earplugs. Earmuffs provide consistent and better protection, and they’re easier to put on and take off, which means they may be more appropriate for short, loud jobs. Just make sure that you check the earmuffs before using them each time to ensure that there aren’t any cracks. If the seal isn’t tight over the ear, they aren’t going to do their job of protecting your hearing.
How to Know if You Need Ear PPE
Most people aren’t aware of the OSHA guidelines or regulations for when hearing protection is required. The legal limit is eight hours of being exposed to noise levels of 90 dBA or up to two hours of being exposed to noise levels of 100 dBA. While this is what OSHA deems appropriate, many companies require that their employees use ear personal protective equipment anytime the noise level might reach higher than 90 dBA.
Regardless of what your company or OSHA says, you know how your hearing is affected when you work around loud noises for most or all of your day. It is important that you focus on the symptoms of hearing damage so that you can prevent it from getting worse. Many times, you can also reduce the damage over time and may be able to regain the hearing you’ve already lost.
Turning Up the Volume
While you’re more likely to turn the volume up when your favorite television show comes on, or a good song comes on the radio, you probably tend to keep the noise level lower but where you can still hear it. If you rarely touch the volume button in your car or on the television, but you can’t hear it and have to turn it up, this can indicate that you have hearing damage.
You may also have trouble hearing people who are talking to you. It’s quite common to ask others to repeat themselves or talk louder when you have slight hearing damage.
Ringing in the Ears
If you ever hear a sound like a traditional landline phone ringing, it could mean that you’re experiencing hearing loss. If you work in a place that is frequently noisy, this indicates that the noise levels are too high and you should wear ear PPE. Of course, ringing in the ears can also indicate other issues and problems. If you’re not sure, you may want to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and let him or her know that you work in a noisy place. They’re likely to recommend that you wear PPE for the ears. If your company doesn’t require it, you may want to talk to the owner or manager about getting PPE for the ears for anyone who wants to protect their hearing.
Sensitivity to Sounds
It’s easy to think that you’re having a bad ‘hearing day,’ which is highly similar to a bad hair day. There are going to be times where you seem to not be able to hear anyone or anything. You may believe it to be the background noise surrounding you, but many times, it’s the first indication that the noise levels at work are too high for your sensitive hearing system.
You may also want to consider the days you work, and the days you’re off. If you go to work and seem to hear fine or have few issues, it could still be indicative of a problem if you are off work the next day and have to ask your friends or family to speak up or repeat themselves frequently.
You may also find that regular sounds, such as someone dropping something, can seem excessively loud to you while no one around you notices. A hearing doctor should test this sensitivity to sound. You may want to consider wearing ear PPE during loud/noisy tasks at work, even if it isn’t required by your company.
Exhausted after Work
Of course, most people are tired after working because they have been on their feet for eight or more hours and want to sit down and relax the night away. However, if you find yourself falling asleep on the ride home, not being able to concentrate, having to turn up the TV, and more, it could be because you’re experiencing the early signs of hearing loss. Your brain ends up filling in all the gaps in the conversation when you can’t understand what is being said. Therefore, your brain is working overtime, which takes significant focus. That focus is heightened if there are multiple speakers. That much effort can leave you feeling tired after work or a social event.
Take the ‘Test’
If you worry that your work area or the task you’re performing is unsafe to do without hearing protection, there is a test that you can perform on yourself and the rest of your coworkers to help you determine if everything is okay.
You and another person should stand about three feet apart and talk to each other in a normal tone of voice. That just means that you speak as you normally would and don’t try to talk over noises or whisper. If you can’t hear your partner or can’t understand what they are saying, it’s likely that the noise levels in your area exceed the safe levels.
If your company is OSHA approved, it is going to determine when ear protection is needed. However, you may not work in a facility that is approved by OSHA. The company heads might determine when PPE is needed, but you can still request it for yourself and can also put in a request that demands it.
Many tools exceed the OSHA limits, such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, tractors, concrete saws, chainsaws, snow blowers, concrete or hammer drills, vacuums, power saws, and much more. For example, if you own a lawn care business, almost every tool you use to landscape a property exceeds the recommended decibel limit. You’re not governed by OSHA, but you’re doing significant damage to your ears without knowing it.
Get Help Now
If you’re already experiencing the signs of hearing loss, talk to an audiologist or doctor about hearing tests and consider a hearing aid to help you hear better. If you work in an area that is frequently loud or work around loud equipment, it might be a good idea to find out how loud these items are to determine if PPE for the ears is something you should consider.