Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia state that the provision of any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by a 'persons conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) to minimize the risks to Health and Safety to workers in the workplace, must be suitable for the nature of the work, of suitable size, fit and comfort, and maintained, repaired and replaced when required.
Hearing protection devices (HPDs) must be used when the risk arising from the exposure to noise cannot be eliminated or minimized by other higher effective controls, or as an interim measure while other higher control measures are implemented, or when additional protection is needed above what has already been achieved using other higher control measures for excessive noise. Duty holders must provide HPDs capable of reducing the noise hazard down to at least 85 dB(A) or below, as well as information, training and instruction on the proper use, storage, maintenance and care of HPDs allocated to exposed workers must be provided. Effective protection requires a properly managed and maintained personal protection program. AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational Noise Management – Hearing Protector Program provides guidance on a systematic approach that should be taken when implementing a hearing protector program.
Hearing protection devices (HPDs) consist of earplugs, earmuffs or combinations of these, and help reduce the effects of noise on hearing by decreasing the level of sound reaching the inner ear. They are most effective when used in conjunction with other control methods for reducing exposure to hazardous noise. In an occupational Hearing Conservation Program (HCP), it is preferable to eliminate or decrease the severity of the hazard rather than to change the way people work or require workers to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Offering a variety of HPDs that provide options for workers in terms of comfort, ease of use, communication and noise reduction (attenuation) is vital. Balance the need for noise reduction with the needs of individual workers and the work environment. This may mean that several types of hearing protectors are needed. Consider offering HPDs that are designed to help workers hear important sounds when there are concerns about communication and safety on the job.
In helping protect your workers hearing, always remember that attitudes and behaviors of your workers can be just as important as the design of the HPDs themselves
Personal protective equipment should be selected and maintained in accordance Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia, the Safe Work Australia Code Of Practice: Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work (2018), and AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational Noise Management - Hearing Protector Program, with attenuation values derived from attenuation measurements made in accordance with AS/NZS 1270 Acoustics – Hearing protectors. Suppliers of hearing protectors should provide full information on the attenuation likely to be provided including the SLC80 ratings, class and octave band attenuation values.
When selecting HPDs, duty holders will need to consider area noise levels, worker noise exposures, communication needs, comfort, fit, hearing ability, personal preference, and interaction with other safety equipment. Suitability for the type of working environment and work task must also be considered.
Workers should be involved in the selection process, offered a reasonable choice of personal hearing protector types, and wear HPDs in accordance with information, training and instruction provided to them.
Noise levels under HPDs should be reduced to below 85 dB (A), and HPDs chosen should not overprotect workers as this may cause difficulties hearing verbal instructions and other sounds needed to work safely by cutting out too much sound. To avoid this, it is recommended that noise levels under HPDs be between 70 dB (A) to 80 dB (A).
In accordance with AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational Noise Management - Hearing Protector Program, HPD assessment of ‘in-ear’ noise reduction levels for an 8-hour shift (i.e. LAeq,8h) less than 110 dB (A), should be conducted using the classification method. If the LAeq,8h is greater than 110 dB (A), and if noise exhibits complexities, than octave-band analysis should be applied. No standard HPD methods of assessment for impulse noise levels exceeding 140 dB (C) are currently available, but the following rules should be used for the selection of HPD in this circumstance: for impulse noise from impacts, small caliber weapons or tools, use Class 5 HPD; for impulse noise from large-caliber weapons and blasting, use well fitted earplugs of at least Class 3 in combination with Earmuffs of any Class.
3M strongly recommends fit testing of hearing protectors as the best method to validate that each worker is obtaining the proper level of protection from specific HPD. It also provides for effective one-on-on training with workers in correct fitting procedures and assists in identifying trends and problem areas to help drive improvement.
Given the large number of hearing protection options to choose from, employers should have no difficulty selecting a few HPDs from several categories which provide the right amount of noise reduction. Since ear canal sizes vary widely among groups of workers, be sure to include several sizes and types of earplugs. Because the noise and work tasks are typically rather different, it can be helpful to include other options such as earmuffs, banded hearing protectors, and level-dependent hearing protectors that are designed to help employees maintain their ability to hear important sounds.
Since effective use of hearing protection is related to the skill and motivation of the wearer, training and education of employees is extremely important. Training should include information on the relative benefits of different styles of hearing protectors, how to select them, proper use and care and when to replace them. To boost the impact of your training, be sure to include interactive learning methods, customize the content to your specific facility and discover what may motivate your employees to value their hearing enough to want to consistently wear hearing protection. Remind employees when, where and how to wear hearing protection using signs and posters in noisy areas.
Each hearing protector is assigned a Sound Level Conversion (SLC80) rating achieved through testing to AS/NZS 1270. This value, in decibels, is a measurment specified by AS/NZS 1270 of how much attenuation was achieved by a group of untrained users who wore the HPD in a laboratory test. However, in the workplace, the noise reduction obtained by individual employees can vary widely and may be significantly lower or higher than the SLC80 value in individual instances.
3M strongly recommends fit testing of hearing protectors as the best method to validate that each employee is obtaining the proper level of protection from that specific HPD. You can quickly measure and document the Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR) for both ears using a system such as the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ Dual Ear Validation System. With this information, you can readily identify those employees who need additional training or who should be wearing a different size or style of hearing protector.
Several recognised organisations (OSHA, NIOSH and the US National Hearing Conservation Association) have endorsed hearing protector fit testing as a best practice. In 2008, the OSHA Alliance of the National Hearing Conservation Association and NIOSH released a Best Practice Bulletin on the emerging trend of individual fit testing. 3M strongly recommends fit testing of hearing protectors as an indicator of the noise reduction obtained by individual workers.
How is fit testing conducted and where?
The physical location for testing may vary, but the execution of a hearing protector fit test program is more efficient and effective if:
Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia require PCBUs to ensure the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work practices, be affected. When risk management through a hearing protector program is being adopted, holistic implementation is a must.
Providing workers with HPDs and instructing them to wear them, is just not adequate. Training, information and instruction must be provided to workers to help them understand factors such as: how hearing can be affected by exposure to noise, noise exposures and their potential effects, where HPD should be used, how to properly use HPD, the importance of wear time, and storage, maintenance and care of HPD. Duty holders must ensure proper initial fitting and supervision in the correct use of all HPDs is affected. Provision for regular follow up educational sessions to motivate and remind workers of the importance of protecting their hearing is essential.
A variety of suitable hearing protectors must be made available to all workers who have an 8-hour average noise exposure at or above 85 dB(A), must be provided at no cost to workers, and replaced as necessary. A worker must use or wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction and must not intentionally misuse or damage the equipment.
Duty holders must ensure that hearing protectors are worn by workers whose exposure is higher than the 8-hour workplace exposure standard (WES) of 85 dB(A) or 140 dB (C) for peak noise. To be effective, HPDs must be worn at all times in the presence of hazardous noise, as removal for even a very short period of time, can significantly reduce the effectiveness of the hearing protector and result in inadequate protection. Duty holders should ensure HPDs are used when:
The duty holder must evaluate the HPD attenuation in respect of the specific noise environment in which the protector is being used, and the exposure duration.
Hearing protectors must reduce the workers 8-hour average noise exposure to a level below 85 dBA.
The adequacy of hearing protector attenuation must be re-evaluated whenever worker noise exposures increase to the point where the HPD may no longer provide enough protection. The duty holder must provide more effective protection as necessary.
If the exposure duration exceeds 8 hours, a hearing protector that provides sufficient attenuation for an 8-hour exposure to a particular noise level, will be insufficient. Work Health and Safety Legislation in Australia commonly refer to 8-hour exposures during a workday, but in some industries, longer workdays are common. For workdays exceeding 8-hours, the AS/NZS 1236.1 recommends normalizing all noise exposure results or data to an 8-hour day allowing for easier and direct comparison to the WES. Adjustment for extended workdays compensates for the reduced recovery time.
Refer to the SWA COP: Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work (2018), AS/NZS 1269.1 - Occupational Noise Management - Measurement and Assessment of Noise Immission and Exposure, and AS/NZS 1269.3 Occupational Noise Management - Hearing Protector Program for further information.
The effectiveness of HPDs is directly related to how well they seal out sound in the environment. This is called the acoustic seal. Without an effective acoustic seal, excess sound leaks into the ear canal.
Some sounds are more difficult to block than others. For example, low frequency sounds (bass on the musical scale) are more difficult to attenuate than high frequency sounds (treble on the musical scale). To obtain good attenuation for both low and high frequency sounds, hearing protectors must seal tightly in or around the ears with no leaks. When leaks occur, low frequency sound can get through, causing a drop in the overall noise reduction. Suggestions for optimizing noise reduction of hearing protectors:
Selecting hearing protection for your workers comes down to finding the right balance of comfort, ease of use, attenuation and situational awareness.
The effectiveness of a hearing protector depends not only on the Sound Level Conversion (SLC80) or Class rating of the device but also on how well it fits, how it is used and its condition.
Hearing protector fit testing is recognised a best practice (PDF, 44.81 KB) by OSHA, NIOSH, and other professional organisations. Although it is not a regulatory requirement, it has several benefits, and will help duty holders meet the requirements to ensure proper initial fitting and supervise the correct use of all hearing protectors.
In a 2014 study, nearly 30% of workers in an OSHA-compliant hearing conservation program were not receiving adequate attenuation for their workplace noise exposures. (Smith, et. al.). In light of the how widely hearing protection attenuation varies among workers, 3M strongly recommends fit testing to verify the attenuation obtained by each worker.
Fit testing systems such as the 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ DualEar™ Validation System are referred to as Field Attenuation Estimation Systems (FAES). The measurement obtained during FAES testing is the Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR). The PAR provides a moment-in-time snapshot of how well the hearing protector is reducing sound for that individual worker. Although hearing protector fit may vary from day to day, fit testing helps to verify that each worker is capable to fitting his/her hearing protectors correctly and obtaining adequate attenuation and that the hearing protector is appropriate for the size and shape of the ear canal or head. Find out more about 3M™ E-A-Rfit™ by clicking here.
Some of the key benefits of HPD fit testing are:
Noise, SafeWork Australia
See “Codes and Guides” tab links to: Model Code of Practice: MANAGING NOISE AND PREVENTING HEARING LOSS AT WORK: October 2018 .
This page also includes links to State and Territory Regulators for specific local requirements.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is based on selected current national requirements. Other country or local requirements may be different. Always consult User Instructions and follow local laws and regulations. This website contains an overview of general information and should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Reading this information does not certify proficiency in safety and health. Information is current as of the date of publication, and requirements can change in the future. This information should not be relied upon in isolation, as the content is often accompanied by additional and/or clarifying information. All applicable laws and regulations must be followed.