"I just started my first summer job at a construction company and was really excited about my first day. When I arrived I was given my safety equipment, which included some hearing protective gear. I personally can’t stand anything around my ears, as I like to be able to hear everything that is going on. I complained to my boss at the end of the day about having to wear this hearing protection. I told him how I like to hear everything going on. He told me good and if that’s the case then I should really appreciate the fact that he is allowing me the opportunity to do just that! He went on to explain how he had been working for a two man shop where no safety hearing equipment was provided, and he now suffers a one third hearing loss. That is all I needed to hear, and for the rest of the summer I was more than happy to be wearing my hearing protection."

Occupational noise exposure is something that must be addressed in every work environment where the possibility of hearing loss exists. It is a potentially dangerous occupational health problem that can affect a worker both in the short term and the long term. If the proper protective gear is not used, or is not used properly, then noise induced hearing loss can become permanent.

Often new workers are not aware of the health risks that can occur with high noise levels and just assume that it is something that comes with the type of job they are performing, and they have to learn to live with it. There are occupational safety health administration rules in place that employers have to adhere to. Industries must know what the acceptable noise levels are and when these are exceeded, then the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) must be implemented and its use made mandatory.

The Employer’s Responsibility

  • As an employer, there is a responsibility to inform employees about the noise level risks associated with each jobsite
  • Explain the type of noise employees may be exposed to
  • Explain what the potential hearing risks are with this type of noise level
  • Explain what the employers are doing in regards to noise control and noise protection
  • Explain how to get the personal hearing protective equipment and how to use it properly
  • Make employees aware of how and why they should report any defects in the protective equipment

The Employee’s Responsibility

  • Ensure compliance with the company rules regarding the wearing of the equipment
  • Be sure to learn and follow all of the instructions for wearing the safety attire provided, so that full protection is attained
  • If purchasing your own, make sure it has the proper safety ratings and is of good quality, and the proper type for the environment you are working in
  • Ensure the equipment is kept clean so it can do its job effectively
  • Return the equipment back to its proper location when finished
  • Ensure it is properly stored

Using Hearing Protection Equipment Properly

  • Follow the full instructions for using the safety equipment as provided by the employer
  • Once the equipment is worn in the work environment, pay attention to whether it is providing the necessary level of protection. If you feel that the noise level is too great, then bring this to the attention of the employer
  • Ensure the equipment bring used is appropriate for the working environment
  • If other protective equipment is being worn in conjunction with hearing protection devices, such as hard hats, or eye protection, ensure that these items are not interfering with the proper position of your hearing PPE. Make the necessary adjustments to ensure that all of your protective equipment feels comfortable and its protective values are not being interfered with or compromised
  • If the piece of equipment you are wearing is uncomfortable, see if there is an alternative piece of equipment that would be more suitable
  • Check to see that the protective equipment is not reducing too much noise. It is essential to be able to hear what is going on in your surroundings

Maintaining Your Hearing PPE

If you have protective hearing equipment that is personally assigned to you, then you will be responsible for maintaining it

  • Inspect equipment on a daily basis to see if it needs cleaning. If so, then make sure this is done according to the manufacturers specifications
  • If earmuffs are a part of your PPE set-up, then inspect the seals daily to ensure that they are in good shape
  • Check the tension on your headbands so that it feels comfortable, but is not reduced to the point where its use is ineffective
  • If you are using compressible earplugs, make sure they are soft and pliable and that they are clean

Equipment Issues

If you are provided with personal hearing safety equipment, make sure that what is being provided to you is clean and hygienic. If your equipment does not seem to be working properly because of a defect or improper fit, be sure to bring this to the attention of your employer.

Preserving your hearing is critically important, as hearing loss can have an effect on all aspects of your life. This is why the use of quality protective hearing equipment is available and its use ought to be enforced by employers and safety professionals.