Hearing protectors

Hearing protectors -alasivu

Where noise exposure exceeds the lower exposure action value, the employer must make individual hearing protectors available to workers.

Ideally, hearing protectors should provide enough attenuation to reduce noise levels inside the ear to between 75 and 80 decibels.

Where noise exposure exceeds the upper exposure action value, the employer must

  • provide workers with individual hearing protectors and
  • ensure that
    • the fit of the hearing protectors takes into account each worker’s personal characteristics
    • workers wear their hearing protectors correctly, and
    • the hearing protectors are fit for purpose and sufficiently effective.

Hearing protectors provided by the employer must be worn as instructed if noise levels exceed the upper daily exposure action value.

Exception to the rule about hearing protectors

There are some circumstances in which the use of hearing protectors can actually pose a greater risk to workers’ health and safety than the possibility of hearing loss. The rule can be waived in these circumstances even if the workers’ noise exposure exceeds the upper action value or the limit value.

Any employer who decides to waive the rule about hearing protectors in order to prevent a greater risk must

  • notify the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of their Regional State Administrative Agency about the exception
  • draw up a risk assessment report
  • obtain justification for the exception from their occupational health care provider or a specialist
  • ensure that exposed workers attend regular health examinations, and
  • notify the affected workers and their occupational safety and health representative about the exception, its justifications and workers’ right to regular health examinations.

Choice of hearing protectors

Exposed workers must be provided with hearing protectors that

  • carry CE marking (in the case of ear plugs, the label can be on the packaging) and
  • are supplied with instructions in Finnish and Swedish.

Hearing protectors must

  • provide enough attenuation to protect workers against the kind of noise to which they are exposed but not so much attenuation that the hearing protectors pose a hazard or a risk in themselves
  • be compatible with the circumstances in the workplace (e.g. helmet-mountable)
  • be ergonomic (size, clamping pressure, other personal protective equipment) and comfortable to wear, and
  • be chosen according to the health of each worker.

Effectiveness of hearing protectors

The attenuation provided by hearing protectors primarily depends on the period of time for which they are worn, how well they fit the wearer and whether they are correctly positioned. Hearing protectors should be worn for the entire duration of noise exposure. Ideally, workers should put their hearing protectors on before they enter a noisy area or begin a noisy process.

Length of use has a big impact on effectiveness

The table below shows the difference between ambient noise levels and noise levels measured inside a worker’s ear when hearing protectors are taken off periodically during an eight-hour period. The hearing protectors in this example attenuate noise by 30 decibels according to the manufacturer.

Amount of time when hearing protectors are not worn during an eight-hour period Attenuation provided by hearing protectors
0 30 dB
5 minutes 20 dB 
24 minutes 13 dB
46 minutes 10 dB
1 hour 36 minutes 7 dB
2 hours 24 minutes 5 dB
3 hours 12 minutes 4 dB
4 hours 3 dB

 

Ideally, hearing protectors should provide enough attenuation to reduce noise levels inside the ear to between 75 and 80 decibels. If hearing protectors are too effective or ill-fitting and therefore uncomfortable, workers tend not to wear them. For example, the attenuation provided by earmuff models depends on the size and shape of the wearer’s head and any objects located between the sealing ring of the hearing protectors and the wearer’s head. The attenuation provided by ear plugs primarily depends on how they are inserted into the ear and the shape of the wearer’s ear canal.