How hearing protector overprotection could be hazardous in your workplace

You have a situation where you believe employees are exposed to high noise levels, and without carrying out a proper noise risk assessment (if you do carry one out), to be extra cautious you go in overkill mode and issue staff with hearing protectors that provide a higher than necessary level of attenuation. Job done, you reckon.

Beware of what lurks! It might surprise you to realise that you may be overprotecting staff where the noise levels at the ear are suppressed to such an extent that it results in an inability to communicate between co-workers.

There is also the risk of warning signals (i.e. emergency sirens, vehicular alarms and even speech) not being audible enough which could compromise safety possibly endangering life and limb. With overprotection comes a sense of isolation, and workers are tempted to remove their hearing protection or wear them incorrectly thus making them vulnerable to the loud sounds which they were exposed to in the first place, risking hearing damage. So, in effect you are back to ‘square one.’

HSE recommends that with the wearing of hearing protectors, to avoid overprotection the noise level at the ear should not be less than 70 dBA. An ideal choice of hearing protector is one that reduces noise levels to between 70 dBA and 80 dBA at the ear.

Click here to receive your FREE guide in how overprotection may be recognised in your workplace and also what constitutes a good noise risk assessment.