The Three Essential Features Your Hearing Protection Must Possess To Be Effective

Exposure to harmful noise levels causes hearing damage to workers in nearly every industry. In fact, in the United States, occupational hearing loss is among the most common work-related illnesses. Each year, an average of 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. 

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researches workplace safety issues, including hearing protection device use and effectiveness. Across all industries, 16% of workers who have been exposed to dangerous noise levels have already suffered material hearing loss in one or both ears. 

Yet, a recent study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that 53% of noise-exposed workers report not wearing hearing protection. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. Some workers feel that hearing protection, whether ear plugs or earmuffs, block useful sounds such as alarms and inhibit situational awareness for workers in dangerous work environments. 

In the past, hearing protection focused on blocking out all sound. But as the science of hearing protection has evolved, we have developed a better understanding of what workers need to protect themselves from work-related injury in high-noise environments. While not using any hearing protection can result in hearing loss from long-term exposure to harmful noise levels, outdated hearing protection can cause accidents related to limited situational awareness. To be truly effective, a hearing protection device must provide protection in three essential ways. It must block harmful noise (i.e. noise attenuation) while also allowing workers to maintain awareness of their surroundings (i.e. situational awareness) and communicate effectively without distortion (i.e. speech intelligibility). 

Noise Attenuation

Noise attenuation is the process of reducing noise levels and is important for protecting a worker’s hearing. 

Hearing protection devices are designed to offer varying levels of noise attenuation. A Noise Reduction Rating scale measures noise attenuation. This scale provides a rating of 0-30, with 30 being the highest level of noise reduction available.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is critical when it comes to staying safe on the job. Of course, when you are aware of your surroundings, you’re better equipped to prevent dangerous situations or accidents from occurring. Alternatively, hearing protection that inhibits situational awareness can actually cause preventable accidents.  

Situational awareness technology in hearing protection allows users to see, hear, and communicate with their surroundings, even in high-noise environments. This technology is perfectly suited for use in various settings, including industrial and construction workplaces or by the military or law enforcement. 

The use of situational awareness technology can help improve safety in the workplace. For example, hearing protection devices featuring situational awareness capabilities can allow workers to hear warning sounds and alerts from their equipment while still protecting their ears from dangerous noise levels.

Speech Intelligibility

On a busy, loud and dynamic worksite, it’s important that workers are able to communicate clearly with supervisors and coworkers without unnecessary distortion from their hearing protection devices. Speech intelligibility technology in hearing protection improves the clarity of voices and other vital sounds in noisy environments which can benefit people who work in them, such as construction workers or factory employees. The technology works by reducing the amount of noise that reaches the ear and helps improve speech clarity. 

Solving the Problem of Wearability

“The best hearing protection is the one that people will actually wear,” says Dr. Stan Phillips, noted hearing expert. [With the best hearing protection]… you can safely work and communicate around heavy machinery, and supervisors can take phone calls without stepping away from the site or losing situational awareness.”

There are many reasons why people do not wear hearing protection. Perhaps the most common reason is that they do not believe they need it. 

Unsurprisingly, hearing protection use is common around construction sites, which are notorious for having one of the highest noise levels of any industry. In fact, the average noise level registered in a construction site is routinely 100 decibels (dB), which can cause significant hearing damage. 

However, you might be surprised to hear that high noise levels exist in any industry, including agriculture, entertainment, hospitality, and even real estate. In these industries, compliance tends to be lower because workers don’t necessarily believe that noise levels in their work environment are high enough to require hearing protection. 

But even when workers know they need hearing protection, they may not wear it. As previously mentioned, many workers don’t use hearing protection because it blocks sounds that they need to hear, such as conversations with others and ambient noise. When these devices block all environmental noise, workers are unable to hear other sounds in their environment, such as alarms or warnings. With most of the hearing protection devices today, supervisors have to remove their hearing protection to provide direction to workers or take phone calls.

Other reasons workers don’t use hearing protection include the belief that hearing protection is uncomfortable or that it will slow them down. Improperly fitted hearing protection can shift or fall off as workers change position, making it more of a distraction than a benefit. In addition, ear cups can be hot during the summer, leading employees to remove their hearing protection. To be wearable, hearing protection must be comfortable and fit securely.

Why Businesses Should Invest in High-Quality Hearing Protection

Hearing protection is essential not only for construction workers and factory employees but for most all businesses. 

To protect worker’s hearing

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a common problem for workers in all industries. The good news is that hearing loss can be prevented with the right hearing protection. 

There are many reasons for companies to invest in high-quality hearing protection for their employees. Job sites are loud and can cause immediate, temporary hearing loss. Long-term exposure can lead to permanent hearing damage. 

This one seems obvious but here are four additional reasons to invest in high-quality hearing protection for your employees:

To limit liability

According to NIOSH, hearing loss claims cost American companies an estimated $242 million in worker’s compensation annually. Class action suits and disability claims cost many millions more. Providing employees with good quality hearing protection can help companies avoid liability from accidents or long-term hearing damage. 

To increase productivity 

The use of hearing protection with speech intelligibility technology can increase worker productivity. With this technology, workers don’t have to take their protection off to communicate with one another. This is important on construction sites, where safety is a top priority. By being able to communicate easily, workers can stay safe and focused on the job at hand. In addition, this technology can help reduce the amount of noise-induced stress workers experience, leading to a more productive and happier workforce.

To decrease costly accidents

To protect their hearing, many workers wear traditional earplugs or earmuffs. However, primitive forms of hearing protection can interfere with a worker’s ability to hear warning signals and communication. 

New technology is now available that combines high-quality hearing protection with situational awareness and speech intelligibility capabilities. These features allow workers to hear and communicate clearly while still protecting their ears from loud noises.

To reduce injury related absenteeism 

Many job sites have dangerous noise levels, and workers can risk severe injuries without proper hearing protection. Hearing loss is one of the most common workplace injuries and can often lead to missed workdays. Use of high-quality hearing protection, that employees actually wear, can reduce employee absenteeism due to related injury or accident. Proper hearing protection can reduce the risk of injury and keep job sites safe.

Clear 360 is the Ultimate Hearing Protection Solution

“True, 360-degree Auditory Situational Awareness and a natural listening experience has been missing until now,” says Joe Butera III, Chief Technology Officer of Bongiovi Acoustic Labs. “CLEAR 360 PRO features proprietary technology advancements in sound immersion, directionality, and speech intelligibility. These features are integrated into one, state-of-the-art, lightweight, in-ear solution that is comfortable to wear even when using protective headwear and eyewear.”

CLEAR 360 PRO offers an ideal worksite hearing protection solution with full 360° directionality and situational awareness using all three dimensions of sound localization. Developed with advanced, patented speech-intelligibility technologies, CLEAR 360 PRO’s hearing protection lets employees communicate clearly in any environment. And, because no two worksites are alike, this hearing protection features five distinct listening modes, allowing workers to choose the mode that works best for them. 

  • Super Hearing mode provides the maximum level of speech intelligibility
  • Natural Hearing mode provides realistic sound quality
  • Voice mode allows effortless two-way communication
  • Comfort mode minimizes loud background noises without inhibiting situational awareness
  • Mute mode offers the highest level of hearing protection, blocking out all sounds 

“The CLEAR 360 PRO was developed and put through some very harsh job site environments,” said Paul Thomas, America’s Senior Director of Sales & Distribution, Civil Construction, Trimble Inc. “One crew was working on an interstate highway site running a Milling machine, and the employees were able to communicate while standing next to the machine in operation. A common response from all the operators who tested the CLEAR 360 PRO on various job sites was: “Wow, I can hear!” They found that it delivers three key job site safety solutions in one product: hearing protection, auditory situational awareness, and enhanced communication capabilities.”

Designed with end users in mind, CLEAR 360 PRO offers next-generation hearing protection that is comfortable, adaptable, and rigorously tested for noise attenuation, situational awareness, and speech intelligibility. Learn more about the CLEAR 360 PRO.