We recently helped one of our member companies deal with the risk of over-protecting employees using personal protective equipment (PPE). We calculated that protection levels would be below 70 dB. The HSE state hearing protection that reduces the level at the ear to below 70 dB should be avoided, since this over-protection may cause difficulties with communication and hearing warning signals. Users may become isolated from their environment, leading to safety risks, and generally may have a tendency to remove the hearing protection and therefore risk damage to their hearing.
Firstly, PPE such as ear plugs or ear defenders are always considered as a last resort as it relies on people wearing them. Control measures such as Elimination, Risk Reduction and Prevention must be considered first. HSG 232 Sound Solutions for the Food and Drink Industries gives comprehensive guidance and case studies in this respect. A free download is available as below:
Secondly, once the measures described in HSG 232 have been considered and if PPE is still a requirement then the HSE Hearing Protection Calculator can be used to determine the correct SNR rating of hearing protection. A free download of the HSE Hearing Protection Calculator and other resources are available as below: