Hearing Protection

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: November 27th, 2011
Topics: Noise & Hearing |


Our sense of hearing contributes greatly to our enjoyment in life and allows us to experience the best life has to offer.

However, our ability to hear can be threatened by excessive exposure to loud noise. This noise can come from a wide range of sources both on and off the job. Hearing damage can occur suddenly, caused by an explosion or other excessive noise. More often, it occurs gradually from a steady exposure to loud noise from machinery, compressed air equipment and other sources.

When you are exposed to too much noise, the delicate structures inside your ear are affected. When the noise exposure is too loud, goes on too long or occurs too frequently, these structures can no longer recover and hearing loss occurs. Noise-induced hearing loss happens over time, but the results are permanent.

The best way to prevent hearing damage is to eliminate the source of the noise — by making equipment quieter. Another method is to separate the worker from the noise with sound-insulating barriers.

The final line of defense is to wear personal hearing protection devices. Hearing protection must be properly worn to be effective. Review the box or package from which you get your hearing protection and see your supervisor for a demonstration on the correct use of the equipment.

Your safety supervisor will recommend the type of hearing protection you need. It is your responsibility to use it as directed and to take good care of it.

These are the main types of hearing protection used at work:

  • Ear plugs fit into your ear canal and shut out the noise. Disposable ones made of foam material are made to be thrown away after wearing. Others are custom fitted to your ear and can be cleaned to use again.
  • Canal caps cover the entrance to your ear canal. They are mounted on a headband, and are made for more than one wearing.
  • Ear muffs are made for protection against higher noise levels, and in the case of extreme noise, are worn in addition to earplugs.

You’ll notice nowhere on this list of approved hearing protection is any mention of wads of cotton or stereo headphones. These makeshift substitutes provide no hearing protection and should never be used in place of proper protective equipment.

Take good care of your hearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using only mild soap.

Be aware of common signs of hearing loss — ringing in the ears, muffled sounds, inability to hear high-pitched or soft sounds.

As part of your employer’s hearing protection program, you will be required to have your hearing tested regularly to detect any problems.

Remember to protect your hearing when you are away from work. Wear ear protection for noisy projects such as repairing a motorcycle or running a lawnmower. Use the right protective gear for sports such as earmuffs for target shooting.

There is no such thing as “getting used to” loud noise. If the noises don’t seem as loud as they used to, it means your hearing is being damaged — permanently.