Monday, 29 April 2013

Ear plugs for hearing protection ~ and not just for builders

Our ears are miraculous creations, yet delicate and easily damaged.  Once hearing is lost it is usually permanent

Building is noisy work: numerous tools from hammers to saws, as well other machinery, and the movement of heavy materials all contribute to a noisy environment which is hazardous to hearing.  Noise-induced hearing loss is a very real issue for builders as well as those who work in close proximity.  It is therefore not surprising that deafness is an issue for the painters who work alongside them.

Builder Andrew McCurdy, who was working on the nearby re-roofing project, wore protective ear muffs for much of the time as well as ear-plugs.  He took them out to show me: 


These ear plugs protect his hearing from harsh noise such as that made by impact drivers (a form of screwdriver), which make a sound like a ratchet amplified.  Ear plugs are made of silicon and contain tiny noise filters which you can just see in the photograph above.  Sound reaching the ear drums is reduced by about 26 decibels.

That's the impact driver on the right

I asked Andrew what he could hear while wearing the ear plugs: the answer was 'most things'.  He can hear what is going on around him - very important on a building site, engage in normal conversation, and even hear the birds singing.  They are comfortable and easy to wear.  I think these ear plugs are brilliant!  I can see that they have a much wider application than for those working on building sites.  In fact, they are now on my wish list!

Ear muffs used by construction workers are Grade 5.  These provide important hearing protection but have their limitations: they cut out most noise but mean that voices cannot be heard, and they cannot be worn if one is wearing a dust mask, safety goggles or hat.  Also, they are easily dropped off a scaffold!  


The ear plugs were supplied by Pacific Ears who specialise in hearing protection, and were fitted by one of their audiologists.  Once individual moulds of the ear canals are made the ear plugs are laser-cut in silicon.   

Different sound ratings and types of ear plugs are available for different requirements. 
As can be seen on the web page below, two of the special uses for ear plugs are for musicians and shooters!  You can select what you want: sound reduction which is 'flat' over the whole frequency, or which excludes some parts of the frequency range more than others. 
Ear plugs cost from around $200 to over $300.  In comparison with the cost of hearing aids which can never reproduce anything like the degree and ease of naturally good hearing and which cost several thousand dollars each this seems a very worthwhile outlay.  It's a simple case of protecting what we already have!

My personal interest in getting a set for myself relates to generalised sensitivity to noise rather than hearing protection per se.  Although I rate my hearing as probably about average I often find that background noise affects me adversely, especially in the kitchen as well as when out shopping.  In these sorts of situations I would LOVE to be able to turn the sound down! 

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