Health and safety is a priority concern in the workplace. There are countless risks and hazards inherent to work environments of every type, from the obvious to the subtle; construction environments present dangers in the form of sharp tools and falling objects, while office environments can present dangers in the form of back injury from poor lifting technique and strain injuries from poor posture.

But there is one area of workplace health and safety that is often underestimated: ear safety. Our ears are sensitive organs, and their exposure to loud sounds – whether explosive sounds for short durations or relatively loud sounds for extended periods – can have a dramatic effect on our hearing health.

The use of hearing protection in especially loud environments is widespread and commonly known. Air traffic controllers and construction workers will wear ear defenders to protect against the loud volumes of machinery in close proximity. But quieter sounds over time can also cause hearing damage. 

UK noise regulations identify 87dB as an exposure limit value, protecting employees from long-term exposure to environments experiencing such volumes. The noise hazards presented by your specific work environment should be identified via risk assessment – also a legal requirement, and a useful way to make provisions for disabled and disadvantaged members of staff.

 The most effective way to provide for this hazard is to offer hearing protection in the form of earplugs. There are many different kinds of earplugs available on the market, though; what are they, and how do they differ? 

Foam Earplugs

Foam earplugs are amongst the cheapest and most common earplug types on the market. They are made with an inexpensive form of memory foam and can mould to the size and shape of any human ear. They are useful for blanket-blocking loud sounds, reducing the volume of sounds reaching the ear. However, they do not allow for clear communication, as they can have a ‘muffling’ effect on incoming sounds. They are also single-use, as they can harbour bacteria over time.

Reusable Earplugs 

For continually loud workplace environments, reusable earplugs are a more economical choice. They are typically moulded in silicone, with a flanged design to form a vacuum fit in the ear. These earplugs are perfect for hearing damage prevention in the workplace, as they can be washed and kept on one’s person for use when necessary. However, they can be less comfortable in the long term.

Wax Earplugs

Wax earplugs are mouldable, one-time-use earplugs that are uncommon for workplace use. Their wax construction makes them impossible to clean and can leave residue in the ear when removed. They are more often used as an ergonomic choice for older people, and as a sleeping aid. 

Custom Moulded Earplugs

Moulded earplugs are the gold standard for workplace hearing protection, and are used by those who require targeted protection at all times. They are particularly common in the live sound industry, where artists and technicians can effectively and comfortably block sound while receiving their own audio ‘feed’ through a built-in earpiece. Custom earplugs are naturally expensive though, and often a prohibitive cost for smaller businesses.

By varsha