Hearing Protection: Validation and Product Selection
Many health and safety professionals may already be aware of fit testing, because for some personal protective equipment (PPE), such as certain disposable respirators, it is required by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
However, many are unaware of recent developments in the field of fit testing for hearing protection.
Employers have a legal duty to protect their workers from hazardous noises, as these can lead to incurable conditions such as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Following growing awareness of the condition, which trade unions have increasingly highlighted over recent years, NIHL is now the EU’s most commonly reported occupational medical condition .
To combat this growing issue, it is vital that suitable hearing protection equipment (HPE) is selected, correctly fitted and worn for all periods of exposure.
There are two key barriers to this: physical differences, such as ear canal size; and the way in which HPE is worn.
Everyone is different, so it should come as no surprise that people will achieve different levels of protection when wearing products such as HPE. People with wider ear canals may receive less protection than those with narrower ear canals, for example.
Fit testing hearing protection is an excellent way to ensure that workers are getting the right level of protection for their environment.
The standard of fit can often play a major part in the levels of protection provided by hearing protection. However, many workers are not correctly trained on how to insert earplugs, which can often leave them exposed to hazardous noise levels.
Not only does fit testing provide an accurate assessment of their competency using HPE, it also provides an excellent opportunity to train staff on the dangers of noise and how to correctly use the equipment.
By testing HPE individually for each worker, fit validation provides reliable, quantitative data to show how effective their equipment is in practice.
This can be used either to help with the HPE selection process, or to reassure employers and staff that their existing HPE is doing its job.
For employers, it also ensures that training records are up to date, protecting companies from potential legal claims, which can be costly in terms of money, company time and reputation.
Aside from legal concerns, the moral imperative to protect workers’ hearing is strengthened by the fact that NIHL and other conditions such as tinnitus, are completely preventable, yet also irreversible.
Simon Field, technical specialist at 3M, said: “Incurable conditions like NIHL are a growing concern for employers, who rightly want to protect both their workers and their businesses.
“A holistic approach needs to be taken when tackling the issue of noise in the workplace. Validating the selection of hearing protection can form a crucial part of a robust hearing conservation programme.
“HPE validation testing gives employers confidence that their workers are achieving the intended level of protection from harmful noise.
“3M has focused on raising awareness of conditions such as NIHL, and has now delivered a unique solution aiming to help prevent them.”
The E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System by 3M accurately tests the effectiveness of earplugs and ear muffs while being worn, measuring sound levels inside the wearer’s ear.
The system works by individually assessing each worker’s Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR), as every employee, job and ear is different.
Unlike any other solution on the market, it is able to test both ears at the same time to provide accurate, quantitative results. Testing both ears simultaneously also improves the system’s efficiency, saving time. This gives the employer more time to educate employees on the importance of fit and compliance.
The product uses seven different frequencies to test both ears for noise reduction from hearing protection. Results are measured directly and objectively, meaning there is no need for employees to listen or respond to test signals.
Furthermore, the durable system, which comes in an impact-resistant carrying case, uses an interface and software that are intuitive and user-friendly, making it simple to operate.
All this saves significant time and energy when fit testing an entire workforce.
Simon added: “We know that one reason some companies do not like using fit testing for other types of PPE is that, with certain systems, it can be a slow process.
“The E-A-Rfit Dual-Ear Validation System from 3M eliminates this problem for ear fit testing. The entire process of testing a worker’s HPE from start to finish can be carried out in just a few minutes, with results delivered instantly.
The system can be used to test how 3M most popular ear plugs and ear muffs perform in any given environment and when worn by any individual, using Field Microphone-In-Real-Ear technology.
For its many benefits, the 3M system was highly commended in the Product Innovation Award category of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) Safety Awards in 2016.
Contact us for more information on the right hearing protection for your employees: firstname.lastname@example.org / 353 1 6301800
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