Protecting Ears in Industrial Operations

By: Parvez Shaikh


Industries like Construction, Mining, Aviation, and Manufacturing are commonly affected by noise and hearing hazards. Therefore, ear protection is an integral part of personal protective equipment in these industries.
Broadly speaking there are three types of categories of ear injury or hearing loss:
Temporary Threshold shift: This is a reversible loss of hearing, in fact in many cases the affected person tends to hear things at higher volume than usual for some time.
Permanent Threshold shift: This is an irreversible change in the hearing capacity of an individual. This occurs from long period exposure to loud noise.
Acoustic Trauma: This is the immediate loss of hearing capacity that occurs due to a mishap.
Effects of Ear trauma or hearing loss
Noise can cause both physiological and psychological trauma. Workers who are exposed to the greater noise levels for sustained periods are at greater risk of damaging their ears. Loss of hearing capacity reduces work efficiency. It affects the coordination between individuals in a team, thereby increasing the risk of misunderstanding. Lack of clear communication between workers in hazardous industrial environments can cause a serious industrial disaster. Besides affecting an individual’s capacity to work, hearing damage also affects the social life of an individual.
Types of Ear protection equipment available
• Ear Plugs: This is a popular type of ear protection equipment that can be inserted into the ear canal. There are different types of materials that are used to make earplugs – foam, silicone, rubber and plastic. Ease of use and cut rate make earplugs a preferred choice for ear protection. In the case of foam earplugs, one size fits all whereas ear plugs made up of other materials come in a large range of sizes and you can choose the best fit for yourself.

• Ear Muffs: Ear muffs are worn over the ears; which look like headphones. These are designed to protect ears from high decibel sounds as experienced by workers working in Aviation or Heavy machinery manufacturing industry. Ear muffs cut the excessive noise and help in communication. They are manufactured with soft material, thus making them wearable for long work hours.

Ear muffs made up of acoustic foam are known to reduce the noise by 30dB. Sometimes ear plugs and ear muffs are used in tandem to protect the workforce from noise levels greater than 100 decibels.
• Earmuffs with helmets: This type of ear muff covers head and ear protection. The ear cushion is designed to fit the outer ear for canal to give maximum comfort, and the helmet protects the head from blunt injuries, this type of equipment is widely used in the construction industry.
• Safe Fit: Other equipment to protect the ear in an industrial environment is Safe Fit. This three flanged device is made from silicon inserts. It provides the essential comfort and durability.
Companies in industrial surrounding where noise levels cannot be controlled or reduced by technology must diligently implement hearing protection guidelines as defined by the countries legislation. Globally accepted TWA noise level where hearing protection becomes necessary is 85dB (A). Correct implementation of hearing guidelines which includes training of employees about the usage, maintenance and benefits of ear protection equipment can go a long way in protecting the workforce from long term and short Period hearing problems.

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