Industrial Noise & Vibration Centre

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Hearing aids + hearing protection – what you need to know…


Posted on: July 11, 2019

The HSE has just released new guidance on how best to manage the use of hearing protection for employees who wear hearing aids. The following is a summary, but you can also download a full advance copy.

There are key considerations when implementing a hearing conservation programme in areas that include personnel who already have a hearing impairment and may need to use hearing aids.

  1. Would switching off my hearing aids protect me? No! High levels of noise can increase existing hearing impairment.
  2. Does having hearing loss mean PPE is less necessary? No, quite the opposite. It is more necessary as any additional damage will just add to the impairment. There is a greater duty of care for personnel with hearing impairment.
  3. Can hearing aids double as PPE? Not usually – unless they have been tested to the relevant hearing protection standards (ISO 4869) to provide attenuation data.
  4. Using hearing aids with hearing protectors: possible? The general advice is to remove the aids. Whilst careful selection of large cup earmuffs with a flat frequency response or active muffs may provide an acceptable option, you will need specialist advice.
  5. Safety sounds: it is imperative that everyone using hearing protection can still hear and respond to warning sounds. This must be checked and alternative warning signals (visual etc) installed where necessary.

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) not only causes the well-known problems associated with communication and tinnitus, but it also increases the risk of dementia (by c 9%) and mental health issues and reduces employment and household income. Consequently, it is very important that staff with existing hearing impairment are protected from further damage.

In the real world, PPE is often an order of magnitude less effective than generally realised – for noise levels above c 95dB(A), for example, it is unlikely to provide adequate protection. Consequently, the best option is to usually to invest resources in noise control rather than simply repeating placebo measurements to either eliminate the problem or to reduce the noise to a level where PPE is effective. Using the latest low cost engineering technology can make noise control projects self-financing surprisingly often… Our noise control audit (instead of, or as well as, a risk assessment) provides a detailed cost/benefit analysis of the options to reduce noise across a whole site or from a single machine that provides the information you need to make the best risk management decisions.

You can download an advance copy of the guidance below (it will appear on the HSE website later this year).