Hearing Protection FAQ

How do I know when hearing protection is required?

It is important to have a workplace noise assessment done. Exposure to noise levels between 85dB - 90dB and above can cause permanent hearing loss, and therefore hearing protection is required in these environments.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is when involuntary noises occur in the ear, such as ringing or hissing, and is often associated with hearing loss.

How can I protect my hearing at work?

The best method of preventing occupational deafness is to reduce noise at the source by engineering methods. However, in certain workplace conditions, there is very little or nothing one can do to reduce noise at the source. In these workplaces, workers must wear hearing protection to reduce the amount of noise reaching the ears.

How do I choose my hearing protection?

The choice of hearing protection depends on a number of factors including level of noise, comfort, and the suitability of the hearing protection for both the worker and the environment.

Most importantly, the hearing protection should provide the desired noise reduction. It is best, where protection must be used, to provide a choice of a number of different types of hearing protection. Each hearing protection device is given a class rating from 1 to 5 to show the level of noise reduction achieved.

If the noise exposure is intermittent, ear muffs are more desirable, since it may be inconvenient to remove and reinsert earplugs.

How is hearing protection tested in Australia and what standards apply?

The SOUND LEVEL CONVERSION (SLC80) rating as applied to hearing protection devices (HPD) is a simple number and class rating derived from a test procedure outlined in the Australian/New Zealand Standard, AS/NZS 1270: 2002.

It provides a simple number guide to the level of noise attenuation reduction that can be expected from a particular HPD.

Because humans are different, the level of protection achieved for each person could also be different and so a scientific formulae is used to allow for differences.

The SLC value includes a correction to ensure that the stated degree of noise reduction is obtained on 80% of occasions. Hence the SLC80 rating. The SLC80 rating is the difference between the sound level of the environment in which the HPD is worn and the sound level reaching the wearer’s ears.

The testing procedure can be separated into two different areas:
1) Mechanical Testing: where the device is subjected to physical forces of stretching, heating and concussion - to simulate real wearing conditions over a period of time.
2) Audiometric Testing: This is a subjective test. A minimum number of human test subjects are selected at random and given a hearing test to establish they fall into the category of “normal Hearing”, as outlined in the standard.

The attenuation of the HPD is determined by measuring each subject’s hearing threshold with and without the HPD fitted.

The difference between these two thresholds is the so-called real ear attenuation of the HPD to a variety of frequencies.

In simplistic terms, from this data the mean real ear attenuation and standard deviation (variation) at each frequency is calculated. The mean minus standard deviation, when subtracted from the band level gives the attenuation.

HPD are also given a class rating, as outlined below, once the SLC80 rating is known, and refers to the level of noise attenuation achieved by each device. The higher the rating, the greater the efficiency of the hearing protection device.

Class SLC80dB
Class 1 - 10 to 13dB
Class 2 - 14 to 17dB
Class 3 - 18 to 21dB
Class 4 - 22 to 25dB
Class 5 - 26 to 36dB

The SLC80 is a rating only, by which in conjunction with the information contained in the Australian/New Zealand standard AS/NZS 1269.3:2005 Occupational Noise Management - Hearing Protector, the problems of hearing loss due to noise exposure for a given environment is addressed.

A deeper understanding of the SLC80 rating or how to apply these ratings to your workplace can be obtained from...
Standards Australia Telephone: 1300 65 46 46 Website: www.standards.com.au

What should I know about the fit of my hearing protection?

Follow manufacturers’ instructions. With ear plugs, for example, the ear should be pulled outward and upward with the opposite hand to enlarge and straighten the ear canal, and insert the plug with clean hands. Ensure the hearing protector tightly seals within the ear canal or against the side of the head. Hair and clothing should not be in the way.

Can I “Toughen Up” My Ears?

No. If you think you have grown used to a loud noise, it probably has damaged your ears, and there is no treatment – no medicine, no surgery, not even a hearing aid – that completely restores your hearing once it is damaged by noise.

What are the common problems of hearing protection?

Studies have shown that one-half of the workers wearing hearing protectors receive one-half or less of the noise reduction potential of their protectors because these devices are not worn continuously while exposed to noise or because they do not fit properly.

A hearing protector that gives an average of 30dB of noise reduction if worn continuously during an 8-hour work day becomes equivalent to only 9bB of protection if taken off for one hour in the noise.

This is because decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, and there is a 10-fold increase in noise energy for each 10dB increase.

How does hearing loss occur?

Permanent loss of hearing is the result of nerve destruction or damage to the hair cells which transfer sound waves within the ear. Once these important parts of the hearing mechanism are damaged or destroyed, they can never be regenerated, resulting in slight to total, permanent hearing loss.

When does noise become harmful to your hearing?

Noise exposures greater than 85 decibels (dB) may cause hearing loss. General estimates of work related noises obviously vary - with a telephone ringing at 80 dB to a chainsaw at 120dB.

What is a dB?

dB stands for decibel, the unit of sound level and noise exposure measurement.

What is the "Safe Noise Threshold"?

90dB (A) - at this level and above, appropriate hearing protection MUST be worn.
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