Ear Protection

Workplace noise is an invisible but significant threat. That’s why noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common health issues facing companies today.


Workplace risks

Around 30% of UK workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise at some point during their day. This could put them at risk of suffering NIHL. Although NIHL is permanent and irreversible, it’s also very preventable. We can arrange an on-site noise survey, to help you measure the risks.


When should you wear ear protection?

Once a noise hazard has been identified and risk assessed, it’s important that the hierarchy of controls is followed before using PPE. First try to reduce the noise, choose quieter equipment, use silencers, find ways to reduce the noise itself, or adapt the workplace to move the noise away.

If the noise cannot be reduced or eliminated, then PPE will need to be worn. Legislation dictates that if the sound levels reach 80 decibels, hearing protection is recommended, but not mandatory. When sound levels exceed 85 decibels, hearing protection must be made available and worn.

But cut out too much sound and it can make communication difficult. Offer too little protection and you won’t filter out the damaging sound. It’s a complicated area. That’s why talking to a trusted expert supplier is crucial to fully understand a PPE category like ear protection.

How loud is too loud?

Find out everything you need to know about decibels and download our ‘Listen today, hear tomorrow’ fact file with tips and guidance on protecting your hearing at work.

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What are the employer’s responsibilities and legal duties?

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) requires employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. The Regulations require employers to:

• Assess the risks to employees from noise at work.

• Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks.

• Provide employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise exposure enough by using other methods.

• Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded.

• Provide your employees with information, instruction and training.

• Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.


What are the different types of ear protection?

Ears are a vital part of the human body that are extremely sensitive and contain the body’s smallest bones. This makes choosing the correct PPE essential to avoid consequences such as tinnitus, acoustic trauma, temporary or complete hearing loss, or industrial/occupational deafness.

There are two main types of PPE hearing protection that you can buy:

Ear plugs

As the name suggests, this type of PPE plugs your ear canal and cuts down on the sound pressure reaching your ear drum. When used correctly, ear plugs are the most effective form of ear protection.

Ear plugs can also be corded and strapped. Some are disposable and some can be reused and worn again after washing. But ear plugs should never be shared between workers, even after cleaning, to avoid infections.


Also known as ear defenders, earmuffs work in a different way to ear plugs. Instead of being worn inside the ear, earmuffs are worn over the entire ear to "muffle" the sound by sealing against the head with an over-head band.

Some earmuffs don’t use a headband and clip to the side of a hard hat. Remember that earmuffs don’t block the sound entering the ear like ear plugs do, so it’s essential you get a good seal between the cups and the head.

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How do you choose and maintain ear protection?

There’s a lot to consider when choosing and looking after hearing protection PPE for your workplace. Here’s seven key things to remember. But if you are ever unsure talk to your trusted supplier.

• Control the risk – Look at the task and the working environment. Work through the hierarchy of controls whilst measuring the level, frequency, and pitch of the noise.

• Don’t over protect – Cutting out noise comes at a cost, as this can cause isolation, an unwillingness to wear them, and the inability to hear alarms and communications.

• Accommodate the wearer – Ensure the ear protection is comfortable and suitable. Consider hygiene, combining them with other PPE, and worker performance.

• Educate employees – It’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure that anyone that is given PPE knows how to use it, when to wear it, how to maintain it, and when to replace it.

• Availability to employees – PPE must be made readily available to anyone who needs it by the employer.

• Maintenance – All types of ear protection should be properly maintained and kept in good, clean, and undamaged condition by the employee.

• Check before use - Ensure that the cups and headband are not cracked or split, the foam has not been deformed, and the ear cushions are clean and ready for use.

Know your standards?

Make sure you're up to date and in the know about the evolution of ear protection standards and what to consider when choosing ear defenders, ear muffs, and accessories.


Why is hearing protection category III?

The World Health Organization (WHO) identified NIHL as the most common permanent and preventable injury in the world. The WHO also recognised tinnitus as the third most serious non-fatal medical condition.

In 2018 new PPE European Regulation 2016/425 came into force to provide greater protection for PPE users. This included moving hearing protection up to a category III, the highest risk category. This is reserved for PPE designed to protect against serious or irreversible damage to health.

We provide everything you need to know about the three categories of PPE and what this means for manufacturing, design, and regulation in our guide to PPE categories below. This explains how the link between the increase in safety requirements and risk, coincides with complexity of PPE design.

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