Hearing Protection

To protect the ears against noise, hearing protection PPE is available in two common forms: earplugs and earmuffs. Earplugs are commonly made from high-density foam that can be compressed for insertion into the ear, after which the foam expands to block the ear canal. Some earplugs are made from a very soft plastic. Earplugs are typically disposable, but reusable types are available.

Earmuffs fit over the ears to provide hearing protection. They are designed for that purpose and should not be confused with music headphones. Some earmuff-type hearing protectors are available with built-in radios.

Hearing protectors are rated with a noise reduction rating number (NRR), which is in decibels (dB). The NRR is determined by the manufacturer, using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-mandated laboratory procedures. A rating of NRR 28 means that under ideal conditions the equipment reduces noise levels by 28 dB. However, to reflect real-life experience, the United States Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) derates the NRR by half, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends different correction factors based on the type of hearing protector (2).

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