Loud noises can permanently damage hearing ability. This can be due to one-time exposure or prolonged exposure to noisy sounds. Sounds are measured in decibels, and the ones with greater than 70 decibels are considered dangerous, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). A few everyday examples of sounds greater than 70 decibels are motorcycle engines, sirens, and gas-powered leaf blowers. 

One of the best ways to protect from noise-induced hearing loss is to use earplugs. Earplugs are electronic devices that fit in the ear and mitigate the risk of louder sounds reaching the cochlea, the inner ear. This way, they can protect you from hearing loss. 

In this blog post, we shall discuss some of the best earplugs for workplace, helping working professionals to select the best one and retain their hearing ability. 

Why are Earplugs Needed in the Workplace?

Occupational noise exposure is very dangerous for professionals working at manufacturing and construction sites or other noisy places. A one-time exposure or repeated exposure to loud noises can result in hearing loss. 

As workers in manufacturing and other sites are exposed to loud sounds for a long time, they have a higher risk of losing their hearing ability. The standard noise level risky for workers is 85 decibels (dBA) over 8 hours. If the noise is 100 dBA or above, the exposure of 15 minutes is enough to damage the ears. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), around 22 million workers are exposed to high noise levels at work that can cause some degree of hearing loss. 

Hence, it becomes essential to understand the hazards of occupational noise exposure and enforce safety measures. One of the most prominent safety measures is to use earplugs. 

OSHA Standards for Occupational Noise Exposure

The OSHA standards for Occupational Noise Exposure require employers to do the following – 

  • Provide hearing protectors for free to all industry workers who are exposed to 85 decibels for 8 continuous hours. 
  • Offer employees the flexibility to choose their own hearing protectors from a variety of options. 
  • The hearing protector options must include at least an earplug or earmuff. 
  • Ensure the proper initial fitting and monitor the proper working of hearing protectors. 
  • Replace hearing protectors as necessary without applying any cost to employees.

However, the deliberate damage or loss of hearing protectors by employees is not accepted by OSHA. In addition, it believes that employers should not pay employees who lose hearing protectors frequently due to carelessness. 

Types of Earplugs 

Let us explore the types of earplugs available today. 

  • Foam Earplugs 

One of the most commonly used earplugs is foam earplugs. They are composed of soft, compressible foam that can be easily inserted into the ear canal. They adjust themselves to fit perfectly inside the ear canal and create a tight seal, blocking the outside sounds. Foam earplugs can reduce noise to a certain range of frequencies. 

  • Pre-Molded or Reusable Earplugs 

These earplugs are composed of silicone, plastic, or rubber and are available in all sizes and shapes. They come with a small stem to make insertion easy and three or four soft flanges on the top. 

High-fidelity (hi-fi) earplugs are one of the types of pre-molded earplugs. They work similarly to turning the volume of the stereo to low. This means they decrease the sound intensity across different frequencies. These earplugs are the best option to protect your hearing without compromising sound quality. 

  • Custom-Molded Earplugs 

As the name suggests, custom-molded earplugs are designed to fit a specific individual’s ears contours. They require the impressions of the ear canal to start the manufacturing process. Hence, they provide the utmost comfort and exceptional fit. Also, they offer effective noise reduction in loud environments. 

  • Electronic Noise-Canceling Earplugs

These earplugs are ideal for any situation that requires hearing protection and situational awareness. They leverage advanced technology to cancel and reduce surrounding noise. Built-in microphones capture surrounding noise, process them, and generate an opposite sound wave to cancel to noise. 

What Is A Safe Decibel Level For Workplace Noise?

Generally, government agencies and standard organizations set occupational health and safety regulations and guidelines to determine a safe decibel level for workplace noise. These guidelines and safety regulations primarily protect workers from the dangerous effects of loud noise exposure. 

The following are some general guidelines:

  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90 decibels for 8 hours in the United States. This implies workers should not be exposed to sound more than 90 decibels on an average of 8 hours of shift. 
  2. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a lower exposure limit of 85 dB for an 8-hour workday. Further, it states that if employees are exposed to above 85 dB, employers should engage them in hearing conservation programs and provide appropriate hearing protection. 
  3. The European Union’s directive has set the exposure limit value of 87 dB for an 8-hour workday. If the noise exceeds the limit, employers should take action to reduce the exposure and provide hearing protectors, such as earplugs for workplace, earmuffs, etc. 

The above guidelines are just examples. However, the exposure limit and specific regulations may vary in different countries and regions. It is the responsibility of employers to assess noise levels at the workplace and take appropriate measures. 

Types of Workplace Jobs that Require Earplugs

There are many workplace jobs that leave employees exposed to loud noise levels. The following are some major workplace jobs that require earplugs for employees to protect their hearing ability – 

Construction Workers 

Undoubtedly, construction sites are noisy due to the use of several heavy machinery, power tools, and equipment. Hence, construction workers experience prolonged exposure to loud noise that can damage their hearing ability. Earmuffs, earplugs, and headphones are suitable hearing protectors for construction workers. 

Musicians

Musicians who perform in live concerts, orchestras, and recording studios are constantly exposed to amplified sound levels. As a result, it becomes necessary to use specialized earplugs that reduce sound to certain levels of frequencies. 

Hunters

Firearms produce intense sound levels less than 140 decibels, whereas shooting generates a sound level higher than 140 decibels. As a result, it is recommended to use hearing protectors while hunting to avoid damage to hearing. 

Swimmer

Though the swimming pool is not a workplace, competitive swimmers spend most of their time in water and get exposed to increased noise levels due to splashing of water and echo in indoor pool settings. Hence, swimmers must use waterproof earplugs to protect their ears from high sound levels. 

Factory Engineers 

Many factories involve the use of enormous machines and tools that generate high levels of sound. Employers must take the required measures, such as providing hearing protectors, to reduce the effect of loud sounds on employees’ ears. 

Airport Workers

Some areas in the airport, such as ground crew, baggage handlers, or aircraft maintenance personnel, are exposed to high noise levels due to aircraft engines, jet blasts, ground equipment, and other airport operations. To minimize the risk of damage to ears, employees working in these areas should use hearing protectors, like earplugs, headphones, and earmuffs. 

Gun Users

Military personnel, law enforcement officers, and recreational shooters use shooting guns that generate the loudest noise on the earth, i.e., 140 decibels (dB). Earplugs or earmuffs come in handy to avoid the damage caused due to extremely high noise levels. 

Nightclub Staff

DJs, bartenders, and security personnel at nightclubs experience prolonged exposure to loud music, in addition to the crowd noise, which often damages their ears. Using earplugs or earmuffs is often recommended. 

Types of Hearing Protection

Hearing protection devices (HPDs) have the ability to reduce the sound level reaching the eardrum to below 85 decibels. Here are the types of HPDs you must know before you move on to choosing the one for your workplace. 

Earplugs 

Earplugs are small electronic devices that fit in the ear canal, creating a seal around the ear to block outside noise. They are generally made of different materials, such as silicone, wax, or foam, and are available as disposable and reusable earplugs. 

Workers in industries, factories, airport runways, construction sites, and other working sites where there are high sound levels use earplugs. 

Furthermore, earplugs for the workplace are easy to carry and come in hard-shell cases or sealable plastic bags. They do not create any discomfort or disruption for workers wearing glasses, helmets, and other safety devices. 

Earmuffs

Earmuffs are one-size-fits-all hearing protectors. They are worn outside the ears and over the head. They offer the best noise protection. Besides protecting the wearer’s ears, earmuffs help them keep their ears warm.

Soundproof earmuffs are also available out there. However, they seem to be uncomfortable during hot conditions. Another biggest drawback is that wearing it provides discomfort to people with glasses.

Ear Canal Caps

Ear canal caps are a combination of earplugs and earmuffs. They consist of sound tubes with earplugs connected to a headband. The earplugs fit inside the ear canal, and the sound tubes connect to the ear cups that rest above the ears. They cover the outer ear and seal the ear canal to provide dual protection.

Choosing the Right Earplugs for Workplace

There are certain factors to help you decide which are the right earplugs for workplace. 

The American Industrial Hygiene Association stated that the following factors or features of earplugs will lead workers to wear them consistently and willingly. 

  • Comfort and accessibility
  • The belief that the device can be worn properly and that it can stop hearing loss
  • The belief that using the gadget won’t make it harder for a worker to notice crucial noises
  • Comfort
  • A sufficient noise reduction
  • Fit easily
  • Relationship to other PPE

Let us now dive deeper into the list of the best earplugs for workplace. 

3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs

3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs are the most widely used earplugs for workplace. They were introduced 40 years ago by 3M, a prominent manufacturer of personal protection equipment, whose products are renowned for their excellence, and still maintain their position in the market. 

The 3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs offer a snug and pleasant fit since they are made of soft, slow-recovery polyurethane foam. For those with sensitive hearing, the foam is excellent because it is hypoallergenic and non-irritating. The earplugs’ tapered shape – often in the form of a bell – enables simple insertion into the ear canal and guarantees a tight seal.

The 3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs adapt to the contour of the ear canal when correctly placed, significantly suppressing or eliminating noise. They usually have a noise reduction rating (NRR) that describes how well they can lower noise levels. 

Because they are single-use and disposable, these earplugs encourage healthy hygiene habits. To meet diverse requirements and tastes, they are offered in a variety of packaging alternatives, including individually wrapped pairs and larger numbers like boxes or bulk packs.

Phonak Serenity Choice

With a variety of earplugs made to give excellent hearing protection and improve listening experiences, Phonak, a well-known name in the world of hearing solutions, can help. 

Serenity Choice earplugs are Phonak’s high-end hearing protection solutions that help reduce loud sound and noise. They are specially designed for people who wish to prevent hearing loss due to loud noises. In addition, they help people block out environmental sound and improve comfort. 

These earplugs reduce noise and harsh noises by 15 to 30 SNR in Europe or 8 to 22 Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) in the United States. They preserve pertinent sound and speech that enables situational awareness and conversations. More interestingly, they provide ventilation, allowing ears to breathe and preventing excess moisture build-up. 

3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector

A flexible and cutting-edge hearing protection tool made especially for people working in loud situations is the 3M WorkTunes Connect Hearing Protector. It blends high-fidelity sound with a contemporary, cozy aesthetic. With this cutting-edge hearing protection, you can easily make and receive calls. 

These Bluetooth-enabled earplugs allow you to stream the entertainment of your choice from your smartphone or other mobile device while protecting your ears in noisy environments. They enable connecting to a range of audio equipment, including MP3 players, cellphones, and tablets.

3M WorkTunes Connect uses premium earmuffs for hearing protection that is intended to lessen the effects of harsh noise in the workplace. These earmuffs offer efficient noise protection against dangerous noise levels thanks to a mix of passive noise reduction materials and cutting-edge noise-isolating technology.

Shush Worker Earplugs

Shush Worker earplugs are high-performance hearing protectors specially designed for professionals in manufacturing industries and construction sites. They provide protection with an SNR of 23 dB while allowing you to continue hearing everything around you clearly and naturally. 

These earplugs reduce any sound generated by heavy machinery, tools, or equipment. Their exceptional acoustic design makes it possible to hear conversations well without taking the earplugs out. This makes collaborating and communicating with coworkers possible without disrupting hearing protection.

Shush Worker earplugs are unique because they have a high-fidelity ceramic filter. Even while listening to music while working, this cutting-edge technology assures clear, unadulterated sound reproduction, providing an unparalleled listening experience. The enjoyment of music is unaffected by these earplugs.

Earplugs For Workplace Conclusion

This was all about earplugs for workplace. Using earplugs while working is essential for protecting hearing. With the correct earplugs, you can successfully shield your ears from loud noises while still being able to hear crucial conversations and alarms. You may enjoy pure and undistorted sound, including music while remaining focused and experiencing reduced noise fatigue throughout the day. 

To preserve your hearing abilities in a noisy work environment, keep in mind that prioritizing your hearing health and using the right earplugs may make a big impact.

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In addition to being the Founder and Editor-in Chief at HearingPeople.com, Luis Zuluaga is the founder and CEO of Florida Hearing Institute, an innovative hearing health enterprise in South Florida, focused on bringing high-tech hearing devices at affordable prices to people with hearing loss. Before his latest hearing healthcare endeavors, Luis served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Zounds Hearing Inc., a US-based hearing aid manufacturer that introduced many technical innovations to the hearing aid market.

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