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Course 709 - Personal Protective Equipment

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

How to Use Ear Plugs and Muffs

The two most common types of hearing protection are foam earplugs and earmuffs. To achieve maximum benefit from either of these, they must be worn properly.

Improper use of both earplugs and earmuffs has been observed among workers. In some cases, foam earplugs were not inserted far enough; in others, they worked their way loose because of head and body movement during work activities. Regardless, earplugs are of little value if they do not fit snug and well within the person's ear.

The improper use of earmuffs typically results in an ineffective seal around the ear and reduced hearing protection.

Roll and squeeze foam ear plugs

Before inserting foam earplugs, they should be rolled into a very thin, crease-free cylinder. In order to get the diameter of the cylinder as small as possible and creasefree, you should begin by squeezing the earplug lightly as you roll it between your forefinger and thumb. Then gradually apply progressively greater pressure as the plug becomes more tightly compressed.

The earplug may also be rolled in a person's palms to achieve the thin, crease-free cylinder. This may be necessary for the person who has small or thin fingers, in which case the cylinder could end up in a distorted "barbell" shape.

A mistake that some people make is to unintentionally roll the foam earplug into a ball or cone, instead of a cylinder. This results in a configuration that cannot be inserted very far into the ear canal and therefore will not provide effective hearing protection.

Pull ear up and back - insert rolled plug

In order for the rolled and squeezed cylinder to be inserted into your ear properly, you must reach one hand around the back of your head and pull up and back on your outer ear to straighten the ear canal. If the ear canal is not straightened out, the earplug cannot slide in far enough because of the natural curve inside your ear. You should be able to feel when the earplug is in far enough to provide a good seal.

Hold plug in ear until expanded

Foam earplugs must be held in your ear with your finger for 10-20 seconds to allow them to expand. Then, to ensure the best fit possible, you should release and push again for another 5 seconds. At this point, the earplug will be positioned entirely within your ear canal.

Both muffs and plugs for extremely loud noise Extremely loud noise may include power saws, guns, pneumatic hammers, radio earphones, and jet airplanes at takeoff. NOSH's guideline for using double hearing protection (wearing both earplug's and earmuffs) is for noise exposures that exceed 100 dBA over an 8-hour period. In the mining industry, workplace noise levels of 105 dBA or more over an 8-hour period require mine operators to ensure the use of both earplug and earmuff hearing protectors.

Glasses and facial hair can cause a bad seal

The ability of earmuff cushions to seal around the ear is reduced if they are worn over heavy beards, long hair or sideburns, and the sidepieces of eyeglasses. In these cases, the seal is likely to be altered, which will result in loss of hearing protection. To help in maintaining a good seal, it is important that eyeglass sidepieces fit close to the worker's head and be as thin as possible.

Hearing loss can be prevented by protecting your hearing in every way possible. This includes wearing hearing protection both on and off the job.

Source: NIOSH