KMP Enrichment Blog          By: David Applegate, EHS Manager

August 2021

The Dangers of Hearing Protection

When I conduct a Safety Talk or teach our employees about PPE I look forward to the section where I introduce the topic of “Hearing Protection.”  My favorite way to begin the section is by asking the class this question, “What is the least used portion of your PPE arsenal?”  As they begin to answer I receive comments like, “a face shields,” “leather gloves” and sometimes “metatarsal toe guards.”  But the answer I am looking for is “Hearing Protection.”  I go on in my presentation to say that hearing protection is the one piece of PPE equipment that we use the least.  There are many reasons why this is the case, but the one reason that, trumps them all is: there is not an immediate injury that happens when you do not use your hearing protection.

Oh, there is no doubt that damage is happening to a Workers hearing, it is just not immediately evident.  In fact, studies tell us that approximately 15% of all American adults aged 18 and over report that they are suffering from some hearing loss.  And the number one predictor of hearing loss among these same adults is, age.  That is right, as you grow older you will experience a greater amount of hearing loss.  That being the case I then proceed with my talk about the importance of using or wearing hearing protection.  I talk about the different kinds of hearing protection.  I demonstrate how to use the different varieties of hearing protection.  And I even show the class how to protect your ears if you walk up on a situation and there is no time for you to use your hearing protection.

After we talk about the different types of hearing protection and the different levels of protection I then move to the topic of “Overprotection.”  This idea of overprotection has to do with the dangers of hearing protection.  With the introduction of this topic, I usually have everyone’s attention.  Because there is a danger to using Hearing Protection, and that danger is the consequences of overprotection.

The biggest hazard that a Worker can face with overprotecting is not being able to hear the many sounds of danger that could possibly be coming their way.  Failure to hear warning sounds / signs such as an alarm system, horns, whistles, warning signals, or shouting can put Employees in real danger.  Finding earplug options that offer the correct protection for your particular application or work environment can make a huge difference – it is the kind of difference that will keep one safe and protected while on the job.

My final piece of advice regarding Hearing Protection is this: overprotection does not mean ultimate protection.  If you hearing protection blocks out the sounds of alarms, horns and back-up warning systems then all of us are in real danger.  It is important that each Worker understands the noise levels in and around their particular workplace.  This can be established by conducting a sound audit with the help of a Safety Manager.  Being trained and correctly understanding the proper fit and proper wear-time of hearing protection can help protect each of us from the dangers associated with overprotection.