Hearing Protection Selection Guide

 

Introduction to Noise Exposure Regulations

Noise-induced hearing loss has been called the most common permanent and preventable occupational injury. According to U.S. federal law, it is the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] to regulate permissible noise exposure levels in the workplace. The OSHA CFR 1910.95 regulation requires employers first to utilize "engineering controls" to reduce noise levels in their work environments. Should these controls fail to reduce noise to acceptable limits, the regulation states that "personal protective equipment shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels."

Employers are also required to implement an "effective hearing conservation program" whenever employee noise exposure levels equal or exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level (TWA) of 85 dB. As part of the conservation program, sound levels must be monitored and documented, and noise-exposed employees must receive annual training and audiometric testing, and be "fitted with hearing protectors, trained in their use and care, and required to use them."

Employers must provide their employees a variety of hearing protection to choose from, training on use and maintenance of hearing protectors and ensure that hearing protection is worn by all employees who meet the requirements of this standard.

Noise Reduction Rating

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is the hearing protection rating method used in the U.S. The current range of NRR available in the U.S. market extends from 0 to 33 decibels. The NRR is derived from an involved calculation that begins with attenuation test results from at least ten laboratory subjects across a range of frequencies. Two standard deviations are factored in to account for individual user variation, and several corrections and cushions are included to make the NRR applicable to a broader population, and a wide variety of noise sources. While it is not a perfect real-world measure of attenuation, the NRR is the most standardized method currently in use for describing a hearing protector's attenuation in a single number. The NRR estimates the amount of protection achievable by 98% of users in a laboratory setting when hearing protectors are properly fitted. The higher the NRR the greater the noise level is reduced.

Types of Hearing Protection

A wide variety of hearing protection products are available and each type offers its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. The most common types are: Disposable Earplugs

These are the most common type of protection. They are usually made of a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PU (polyurethane) foam. Disposable earplugs are compressed or rolled-down prior to insertion and then slowly re-expand to fill the ear canal. These earplugs are usually available with or without a pre-attached cord and are usually one-size-fit-all (some sized earplugs are also be available). Metal detectable earplugs are also available and are mainly used in food processing and can be recognized by contamination sensors in the processing line. Disposable earplugs offer an economical and convenient choice for work situations that demand a high degree of comfort, frequent changes, or where hygiene presents a problem for reuse.

Here are a few examples from our large selection

Howard Leight Max Earplug-Uncorded

MAX pre-shaped earplugs feature a smooth outer skin for maximum user comfort. The NRR 33 rating makes the MAX the highest rated disposable earplug in the U.S. The smooth, soil-resistant skin helps prevent dirt from penetrating the surface prior to insertion. Uncorded style.

Howard Leight Max-Lite Earplugs-Uncorded

Max Lite earplugs from Howard Leight hearing protection are ideal for long-term users and those with smaller ear canals. The non-irritating, non-allergenic self-adjusting foam earplugs recovers to fit virtually any ear canal. NRR 30 dB. Uncorded style.

E-A-R Classic Uncorded Ear Plugs

The EAR Classic ear plugs are the most popular earplugs in the world! The AO Classic ear plugs timeless design has proven itself in the field for over 28 years, and its dermatological safe foam provides a comfortable, effective seal while exerting little pressure on the ear. Moisture resistant, they will not absorb moisture and swell like many other models. Foam will maintain its comfort, fit and critical recovery characteristics. Uncorded. Hearing protection NRR 29 dB.

E-A-R Yellow Neon Metal Detectable Corded Ear Plug

The softest, smoothest, highest NRR (33 dB) metal-detectable earplugs available. Their shaped foam provides maximum comfort with excellent attenuation. Both the cord and the plugs are metal detectable.

Push-in Foam Earplugs

Push-in foam earplugs are the newest type of hearing protection and combine the easy use and fit benefits of a reusable earplug with the cost and comfort advantages of a disposable earplug. The earplug combines an ultra-soft earplug with an insertion tip and requires no rolling or touching plug portion during insertion. This reduces the concern of inserting earplugs with soiled hands.

Reusable Earplugs

Reusable earplugs are made usually made from silicone and tapered to fit the ear canal. They are intended to be reused and can be cleaned using soap and water. They are available either corded or uncorded and in metal detectable styles for food processing. While these are more durable than disposable earplugs, they typically have a lower NRR. Both reusable and disposable earplugs are small enough to be used with any other head/face/eye protective equipment such as hard hats, face shields or safety glasses. Reusable earplugs are ideal for environments where workers can retain and store earplugs for reuse over time - reducing waste and saving money.

Here are a few examples from our large selection.

Moldex Rockets Reusable Ear Plugs-Corded (Pair)

The Moldex Rockets earplugs are made of soft, washable material with an easy grip handle for easy insertion. Moldex Rockets earplugs feature air-cushioned tips for increased comfort. Each pair comes with a PocketPak® carrying case to store plugs between uses. The Moldex Rockets earplugs can be washed and reused. Hearing protection NRR 26 dB. Corded.

Peltor® NEXT Tri-Flange Earplug (Pair)

The Peltor® NEXT Tri-Flange earplugs have soft, flexible flanges that conform to the shape of the ear canal to form a triple-level seal against noise. The plastic LiveWire Stem allows for quick, clean, and optimal insertion for maximum protection. Earplugs have a vinyl cord and a NRR of 26 dB.

Howard Leight Quiet Ear Plugs-Uncorded

The Howard Leight Quiet ear plugs are reusable, foam, earplugs that do not require rolling prior to insertion. Insert using the built-in flexible stem and reduce the risk of infection in unclean environments. They easily wash with soap and water for weeks, or even months of hearing protection. NRR 26 dB. Uncorded. 100 pair per box.

Hearing Bands

Hearing Bands consist of a pair of earplugs connected to a flexible band and most styles can be worn in different positions (over-the-head, under-the chin or behind the neck). The NRR of these bands is similar to most reusable earplugs. The band allows this item to be stored around the neck while not in use. Depending on which position the band is worn in, these can be used with most hardhats, face shield or glasses. Hearing bands are a great alternative for those who work in intermittent noise or managers/visitors who move in and out of noise.

Here are a few examples from our large selection.

Howard Leight QB2 Quiet Band Hearing Protector

The Howard Leight QB2 hearing protector is an ideal choice for most noise environments. It has softly styled foam pods shaped for supra-aural protection. The pods fit easily inside the ear canal opening and provide a level of hearing protection at NRR 25 dB. The reusable soft foam ear pods are designed for wearer comfort and are washable with soap and water for long term hygienic use. Sold individually, each Quiet Band comes packaged with an extra pair of pods. Replacement pods are available and sold by the pair.

Moldex Jazz Band Hearing Protector

The Jazz Band features a soft, comfortable foam pod that gently caps the ear canal, offering superior comfort and increased compliance. The soft foam pods have the exclusive AdB coating that makes the pods soil resistant and can be washed and reused. A detachable breakaway neck cord allows the Jazz Band to conveniently hang around the neck while not in use. Designed to be worn without interfering with safety glasses. Packaged with spare pods. Replacement pods available in packages of 5 pair, with one neck cord. NRR 25 dB.

Earmuffs

Earmuffs offer comfort without any direct pressure inside the ear canal for greater comfort. Earmuffs are usually constructed of all plastic materials (these are called dielectric and are ideal for work around electrical hazards) or a combination of metal and plastic for added durability. The three common designs of earmuffs are the standard over-the-head (see Figure 4a.), cap-mounted (Figure 4b.) and behind-the-neck (Figure 4c.). The cap-mounted earmuffs are design to mount directly to most hard hats that have side-accessory slots and the behind-the-neck style can also be used while wearing a hard hat or face shields. Low profile behind the neck earmuffs are commonly used by welders since they will fit inside of a welding helmet.

Here are a few examples from our large selection.

Peltor H10A Headband Earmuffs
Figure 4a.

Peltor H10A Headband Earmuffs

The Peltor H10A ear muffs (OPTIME 105 Series) are the technology leader for hearing protection. The dual shell of their Twin-Cup ear muff for extremely high noise environments minimizes resonance, allowing maximum high-frequency attenuation. The result is highly effective protection, low weight and optimal comfort in even the most severe type of applications. Peltor is known as producing the highest quality earmuffs in the safety industry! Highest NRR for any ear muff tested by an accredited lab of 30 dB.

Bilsom Leightning L3H Cap-Mount Hard Hat
Figure 4b.

Bilsom Leightning L3H Cap-Mount Hard Hat

The most comfortable, highest attenuating ear muff available! Bilsom's new LEIGHTNING L3 earmuff blows away the competition with an NRR 27 the highest level of hearing protection available in the industry. Tough, stress-resistant steel frame is built to last. The soft, slow-recovery ear cushions provide a more form-fitting seal and long-wearing comfort. Telescoping height adjustment allows you to get the proper fit every time. Pivoting head cups for easy on/off and swing back when not in use. Vinyl covering ear cushions are soil resistant. Lightweight, 10 oz., Jet Black.

Peltor H6 Low Series Earmuffs
Figure 4c.

Peltor H6 Low Series Earmuffs-Behind The Neck Model

Our lowest profile hearing protector earmuffs. The Peltor H6 (OPTIME 95 Series) behind the neck model offers a low-profile and the neckband exerts low pressure for comfortable, long term use. Soft, liquid foam-filled ear cushions provide added comfort. These earmuffs are often used by welders since the low-profile design allows it to fit under most welding helmets. NRR 21 dB

Electronic Earmuffs

These provide the same protection as standard earmuffs but also offer other features such as AM/FM radio reception, two-way radio reception or amplification of low sound levels. Electronic earmuffs are used for a variety of uses including workplace hearing protection, hunting hearing protection and military hearing protection. Electronic headsets can also offer two way communications either through the use of a two way radio or through a radio headset that has an integrated two way radio. Also available is an extensive line of tactical and military headsets.

Here are a few examples from our large selection.

Peltor Digital WorkTunes 26 Radio Earmuff

Finally the AM/FM radio earmuff that you have been waiting for. The all new Peltor Digital WorkTunes 26 (WTD2600) features digital tuning to allow you to change stations instantly, no more thumbing around trying to tune in your favorite radio stations! Or use the supplied patch cord (3.5mm stereo) to connect to your MP3 player or Ipod.

And yes this new radio earmuff offers more than just digital tuning, it provides hearing protection. The Peltor Digital WorkTunes 26 has an NRR of 26 dB and it also limits the volume to a safe level of 82 dB. With the digital tuning you are also less likely to remove your hearing protection to tune in your favorite AM/FM radio stations.

Peltor TacticalPro Electronic Headset

Cut out harmful noise - Amplify useful sounds. Peltor's TACTICAL PRO offers electronic suppression of dangerous impulse noises common to industrial users and shooters, along with amplification of ambient surrounding voices, important signals and warnings. The Peltor Tactical Pro electronics are designed to limit amplified sound levels to 82 dB. Microphones on each cup pick up and reproduce ambient noise in stereo for true directional hearing. An audio jack allows connection to external devices via optional Peltor patch cords. Hearing protection NRR 26 dB.

PowerCom Plus II 2-Way Radio Headset

Your 2-way communication headset is here! The all new Peltor PowerCom Plus II has new features that make this 2-way radio headset the most efficient way to communicate in high-noise environments. This headset has everything needed for its operation contained within the headset. The 2-way radio headset does not require a belt radio, wires, or base radio stations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can earmuffs and earplugs be used together to provide more noise reduction?

A.Dual protection is normally recommended for noise environments with exposures exceeding a time-weighted average level of 105 dBA, or for users who simply wish to block additional sound for extra hearing protection. When wearing an earmuff and an earplug, OSHA gives credit for 5-dB of additional protection above that of the higher attenuating device.

Q. How dangerous is gunfire to my hearing?

A. The sound of gunfire is the most hazardous non-occupational noise to which Americans are exposed. The table below lists the peak sound pressure levels of typical guns. What is so dangerous about peak levels such as these is that a single shot experienced by an unprotected ear can lead to immediate and permanent hearing loss, often accompanied by tinnitus (ringing, hissing, or humming in the ears). Just because you might have shot without protection in the past, and without apparent hearing loss, does not mean you might not get hurt the next time. Exposure to peaks sound pressures can be likened to dropping a glass bottle. Sometimes it breaks and sometimes it doesn't; you can't predict the outcome.

Hearing protection should always be worn when firing guns. Some will even choose to use dual protection because it reduces the sounds even further for greater protection, and for some, for better shooting as well (since the pulses are lower and the likelihood of flinching is reduced).

Peak Sound Pressure Levels (SPL)
Type of Gun SPL (dB)
.44 Revolver 170 dB
45 Automatic 165 dB
M-16 160 dB
.357 Revolver 160 dB
12 Gauge Shotgun 155 dB
.38 Revolver 150 dB
.22 Rifle 145 dB

Q. Can earmuffs be worn over safety eyewear without affecting attenuation?

A. In tests conducted by Howard Leight, safety glasses that had a thin frame (a width of 2mm or less at the temples where the earmuff cushion meets the frame), the eyewear caused no significant decline in attenuation

Sources for More Information

29 CFR 1910.95, Occupational Noise Exposure

Please Note: The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.
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