New Technology Helps Prevent Noise Induced Hearing Loss Before It’s Too Late

Did you know that many workers receive less than half of the hearing protection they should be getting from their earplugs? It’s hard to believe, but because you can’t tell if earplugs are fitting properly just by looking at the person wearing them, they may not be aware that they haven’t achieved the correct fit. There are a few reasons why this can happen:

  • Improper choice of earplugs:
    • The model chosen will not provide the right fit for the individual
    • The NRR rating is insufficient for the noise level in the work area
  • Improper use of earplugs:
    • They are not being properly worn
    • They are not being worn at all
Regardless of the reason, an effective solution is clearly required. The fact is that once the worker develops a noise-induced hearing loss, it’s too late and permanent damage has already been done. Many people that aren’t wearing their earplugs properly simply haven’t been adequately educated. They don’t understand the health risk, why it’s in their best interest to protect themselves, and how to properly protect themselves. Well, there’s great news. Quantitative earplug fit testing is now available. These proprietary hardware/software systems offer a significant advancement in earplug fit training.The method is similar in concept to a hearing test that would be conducted using an audiometer. The key difference is that the fit-testing system measures the amount of noise reduction the worker is getting from the earplugs based on the way they have fitted the earplugs themselves.

What makes these systems so effective?

  • They’re generally very quick, no more than 10 minutes, and in some cases, quite a bit less
  • They provide instant feedback to the user in an easy to understand printout
  • If the results indicate that the plugs didn’t achieve the desired results, the trainer can re-instruct and re-test the worker until the required noise reduction is achieved
  • If an acceptable fit can’t be achieved after a certain number of attempts, it likely means that their choice of earplug cannot be made to fit (which is more common than you think) and they should try a different make/model
  • At the end of the process, the employee will have the right model of earplugs and will know how to wear them properly
With over 25 years experience developing hearing conservation programs for industry, I strongly recommended that every employee that wears earplugs be fit-tested, not just the employees with known hearing problems. As previously mentioned, there’s no way of knowing if a person is wearing their earplugs properly just by looking, or by the NRR rating on the product packaging. Why wait until they develop a permanent hearing loss? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Fit tests should be done as soon as a worker is provided with their earplugs, and any time they change to a different type. Similar to audiometric testing, it’s also recommended that earplug fit testing is conducted on a periodic basis in order to monitor for inconsistencies and to conduct re-testing as needed.