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Requirements For Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs)

Requirements For Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs)

Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs) – Basic Requirements

Hearing protection devices (HPDs) are considered the last option to control exposures to noise. HPDs are generally used in conjunction with other hazard controls.

Employers must make HPDs available to all employees exposed at or above the action level.

Employers must ensure that HPDs are worn by employees as required by Table G-16 of 29 CFR 1910.95 or who are exposed at or above the action level and who:

  • have not yet had a baseline audiogram established or
  • have experienced a standard threshold shift (STS).

HPD Selection and Use

It is essential to the success of the program to have someone responsible for the selection of hearing protection devices and the supervision of their use. They must be able to evaluate and select appropriate devices for each employee, based on proper fit, the employee’s noise exposure, hearing ability, communication needs, personal preferences, and other constraints imposed by job tasks or work environment.

  1. Earplugs come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials and can be reusable and/or disposable. Earplugs are designed to occlude the ear canal when worn.
  2. Earmuffs are another type of hearing protector. They are designed to cover the external ear and thus reduce the amount of sound reaching the inner ear. Care must be taken to ensure that the seal of the earmuff is not broken by safety glasses, facial hair, respirators, or other equipment, as even a very small leak in the seal can destroy the effectiveness of the earmuff.
  3. Hearing bands are a third type of HPD and are similar to earplugs, but with a stiff band that connects the portions that insert into a worker’s ears. Hearing bands may not provide the same noise attenuation as properly fitting earplugs, as the portions that fit into the ears are stationary and cannot be twisted into place like earplugs.

Earplugs, earmuffs, or hearing bands alone might not provide sufficient protection from significantly high noise levels. In this case, workers should wear double hearing protection- earmuffs with earplugs. Avoid corded earplugs, as the cord would interfere with the muff seal. Additionally, hearing bands cannot be worn with earplugs or earmuffs, as the connected band would interfere with the muff seal, and there is no room to insert earplugs at the same time.

Hearing Protection

Fitting HPD’s

When fitting hearing protectors, attention needs to be given to each ear. It is not uncommon for a person to have right and left ear canals that are different sizes and must, therefore, be fitted with earplugs that are separately sized for each ear.

Ear canals should be inspected to assure that no physical problems, such as infections or excessive ear wax, will compromise or complicate the use of hearing protectors. Other employer requirements for providing hearing protection include:

  • Employees must be given the opportunity to select their HPDs from a suitable variety. Generally, this should include a minimum of two devices, representative of at least two different types.
  • The employer must provide training in the use and care of all HPDs provided to employees.
  • The employer must ensure proper initial fitting of HPDs and supervise their correct use.

Program implementers should be alert for common pitfalls associated with use and care of hearing protectors. For example, motorcycle helmets, personal stereo headsets, swimmer’s earplugs, and hearing aids cannot be substituted for hearing protectors. Program implementers should be proactive in working with employees to avoid such pitfalls.

HPD Attenuation

Attenuation refers to the damping or decrease of noise levels as a result of wearing HPDs. All hearing protectors are provided with an Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Although earplugs can offer protection against the harmful effects of impulse noise, and some earplugs are designed specifically to reduce this type of noise, the NRR is based on the attenuation of continuous noise and may not be an accurate indicator of the protection attainable against impulse noise. Earplugs are better suited for warm and/or humid environments, such as foundries, smelters, glass works, and outside construction in the summer. Requirements related to attenuation include:

  • The employer must evaluate HPD attenuation for the specific noise environments in which the HPD will be used.
  • HPDs must attenuate employee exposure to at least an eight hour time-weighted average of 90 dBA.
  • For employees who have experienced a standard threshold shift (STS), HPDs must attenuate exposure at or below the action level of 85 dBA-TWA (time-weighted average).
  • The adequacy of the HPDs must be re-evaluated whenever employee noise exposures increase to the extent that they may no longer provide adequate attenuation. The employer must provide more effective hearing protectors as necessary.
  • Employer needs to know and understand the methods for estimating HPD attenuation.

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