Wearing ear protection can make the difference between being able to hear perfectly and being deaf. Therefore, it’s important to understand them correctly. When compared to other types of PPE, ear protection is one of the easier types to understand, however, it still comes attached with its own confusing symbols.

In this article we will be explaining what SNR means, which type of ear protection you will need and much more. By the end of this article, you will have no problem in choosing the correct protective equipment, whether it is for your own use or use for an employee.


Types of ear protection

There are multiple types of ear protection, in which some are more specialist than others. Ear muffs or ear defenders are the most common. Ear plugs are also used regularly but provide a reduced amount of protection.

When choosing ear protection you must look at three main points; environment, noise and fit. These three factors directly affect what protection you should use. The environment will dictate the types of noises you are likely to hear as well as how that sound travels. You will need to take a direct look at how many dB the noise is, or likely to be. This will ensure your protection meets the requirements. Lastly, your ear protection will need to fit correctly, meaning if there is a gap they could prove non-effective.


Ear Muffs / Ear Defenders

Ear Defenders they are designed to offer over ear protection. They are made of a range of materials and levels of protection.

It is important, as mentioned above, to choose ear defenders based upon the environment. Your environment will show exactly what level of protection you will need.

Some ear muffs have additional ear cushions designed to be easily replaced whilst others are designed to be inserted onto a hard hat, providing both ear and head protection.


Ear Plugs

Earplugs are designed to be easy to carry and easy to use alternative to ear defenders. Similar to the ear defenders, they must provide a perfect fit for the ear. This ensures the correct level of protection. The most common type of these ear plugs are the orange PU foam design, found in almost every workplace or construction site. Closely followed by rubber plugs looking more like in-ear headphones. Each design provides a different level of protection against various dB.



What noise levels pose a risk?

Noise levels in your workplace could leave you with potentially permanent hearing damage. Having a conversation with someone will not provide you with hearing damage, however prolonged shouting for 2 hours or more could.

Using machinery such as a belt sander or drill could cause you hearing damage in as little as 7.5 minutes. If you were wearing the correct protection this could reduce to damage after 8 hours (depending on the dB). A belt sander is usually around 103dB whereas other machinery can be slightly lower as 100dB. Anything over 115dB has the ability to provide you with hearing damage regardless of the exposure time.

HSE has released a helpful set of calculators which gives you an existing of your noise exposures. To find our more visit: http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/calculator.htm


What is SNR?

SNR stands for Single Number Rating. SNR is used to compare different hearing protectors and their protection against noise levels. The SNR value is subtracted from the average noise level measured giving you a dB limit. An example of this would be if the noise level average is 99dB with an SNR of 19 the acoustic pressure on the ears would be 80dB. (99dB – 19dB = 90dB)

Therefore the higher the SNR value the better protection against higher dB. Alongside the SNR rating, some hearing protection have another value based upon the frequency of protection. There are three levels of frequency, high, medium and low.


Laws & Legislation

In 2005, The Control of Noise at Work Regulation was introduced to replace the Noise at Work Regulations 1989. Although the regulation was introduced in 2005 it wasn’t enforced until the 6th April 2006 for all industries except music and entertainment. For music and entertainment, this was introduced later in 2008.

Employees must be provided with ear protection when the daily or weekly average exposure is 85dB or more. Alongside this when an average of 80dB is reached employees must be provided with information and training from the employer. This training must be about the risk of noise exposure within the workplace.

There is also a limit of 87dB, once this limit is met no employee should be exposed to the noise. If the employee is wearing ear protection they can be exposed providing the SNR brings the dB below the 87dB limit.

Source: http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/regulations.htm


Did you know?

Every employer must provide their employees with the appropriate PPE without charge? That’s right, employers are required by law to not only provide but to ensure every employee fully understands how to use PPE. Ear protection such as ear plugs or ear defenders are no different, they must be supplied by the employer.

Below are 2 sections of 2 separate regulation stating the above.

Regulation 4 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 states:
“Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.” 

Section 9 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states:
“No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions.”

Read more at What PPE are employers required to provide?

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