When hearing protection should be used
Hearing protection should be issued to employees:
- where extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using noise control
- as a short-term measure while other methods of controlling noise are being developed
You should not use hearing protection as an alternative to controlling noise by technical and organisational means.
Give HSE's pocket card Noise: Don't lose your hearing to your employees to remind them to wear their hearing protection. You can also order copies from HSE Books.
What the law requires employers to do
You are required to:
- provide your employees with hearing protectors if they ask for it and their noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values
- provide your employees with hearing protectors and make sure they use them properly when their noise exposure exceeds the upper exposure action values
- identify hearing protection zones, ie areas where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, and mark them with signs
- provide your employees with training and information on how to use and care for the hearing protectors;
- ensure that the hearing protectors are properly used and maintained
Select protectors to reduce noise and avoid overprotection
Protectors that reduce the level at the ear to below 70 dB should be avoided, since this over-protection may cause difficulties with communication and hearing warning signals.
Users may become isolated from their environment, leading to safety risks. This generally may have a tendency to remove the hearing protection and therefore risk damage to their hearing.
The table below gives an indication of the protector factor that is likely to be suitable for different levels of noise (the level during a particular work task, not the daily personal noise exposure). It is based on the single number rating (SNR) value provided with a hearing protection device.
The information is intended as a guide rather than a substitute for using one of the standardised methods for calculating hearing protection performance. It will not be appropriate if there are significant low-frequency components to the noise in question.
The table is not suitable for noise environments which may contain significant low-frequency components.
- press shops
- generators and generator test bays
- plant rooms
- boiler houses
- concrete shaker tables
- moulding presses
- punch presses
To avoid overprotection, you should use hearing protection with SNR values at the lower end of those shown in the table below when the noise is at the lower end of the corresponding range of levels.
|A-weighted noise level (dB)||Select a protector with the right SNR|
|85 to 90||20 or less|
|90 to 95||20 to 30|
|95 to 100||25 to 35|
|100 to 105||30 or more|
How hearing protection can be used effectively
- make sure the protectors give enough protection - aim at least to get below 85 dB at the ear
- target the use of protectors to the noisy tasks and jobs in a working day
- select protectors which are suitable for the working environment - consider how comfortable and hygienic they are
- think about how they will be worn with other protective equipment (eg hard hats, dust masks and eye protection)
- provide a range of protectors so that employees can choose ones which suit them
- provide protectors which cut out too much noise - this can cause isolation, or lead to an unwillingness to wear them
- make the use of hearing protectors compulsory where the law doesn't require it
- have a 'blanket' approach to hearing protection - better to target its use and only encourage people to wear it when they need to
You will need to make sure that hearing protection works effectively and check that:
- it remains in good, clean condition
- earmuff seals are undamaged
- the tension of the headbands is not reduced
- there are no unofficial modifications
- compressible earplugs are soft, pliable and clean
Information and training
Hearing protection will only be effective when used and fitted correctly. It should be worn at all times in a noisy environment, as removing it for only a few minutes will considerably lower the protection to the wearer.
You must give users instructions in the correct fitting and use of hearing protection, This includes:
- why you are issuing hearing protectors
- how to fit hearing protectors properly
- where and when they must be used
- how to avoid potential interference on the effectiveness of their hearing protection, such as
- long hair
- woolly hats
Any instructions or training should also cover:
- where appropriate, how to wear hearing protection in combination with other personal protective equipment
- the importance of wearing their hearing protection at all times in a noisy environment
- how to store their hearing protection correctly
- how to care for and to check their hearing protection at frequent intervals
- where to report damage to their hearing protection
- how to obtain replacement or new protectors
Checks you need to make
You need to make sure that employees use hearing protection when required to. You may want to:
- include the need to wear hearing protection in your safety policy. Put someone in authority in overall charge of issuing them and making sure replacements are readily available
- carry out spot checks to see that the rules are being followed and that hearing protection is being used properly. If employees carry on not using it properly you should follow your normal company disciplinary procedures
- ensure all managers and supervisors set a good example and wear hearing protection at all times when in hearing protection zones
- ensure only people who need to be there enter hearing protection zones and do not stay longer than they need to