An issue from the start: disposable earplugs are not effective

Despite the rise of the safety culture and legal obligations, cases of hearing loss and occupational deafness are increasing. What exactly is the situation?

Hearing loss and deafness are progressing despite noise prevention campaigns

Since 1950, driven by national legislation (OSHA 29 CFR in USA, Decree 2006/892 in France, DGUV in Germany, and so on), noisy businesses of all sizes have implemented their own employee hearing conservation programs.
Hearing protectors are a vital part any hearing conservation program.

Direct consequences:

  • The safety culture of “protect your ears” continues to grow. Ear protectors enter the noisy business world.
  • The market of earplug manufacturers is consolidated around the two global leaders: 3M (Ear™, Aearo™, Peltor™) and Honeywell (Howard Leight™, Bilsom™).

However, hearing loss and occupational deafness keep growing!

In 2007, 23,000 cases of work-related hearing loss were identified in the United States, mostly in the industrial sector.

Are disposable earplugs effective?

To be effective, a hearing protector should be adapted to each employee’s ears and working environment, and be compliant with its certification.

Individual hearing protectors bar chart

Is the chosen hearing protector appropriate to each employee?

For many companies, the noise and its impact are distant problems, far in the future: hearing loss and even occupational deafness often occur after 5, 15, or even 30 years of exposure.
Therefore, 75% of hearing protectors are usually disposable earplugs, which are often chosen indiscriminately, and without the involvement of employees. They receive information about noise and are required to wear these hearing protectors, even though they aren't adapted to their environment or their ear shape.

Is the hearing protector really compliant?

Scientific studies conducted by the certification laboratories or standard hearing protection manufacturers strictly analyze the imperfections of the protections. Scientist Eliot Berger of 3M has carried out the greatest number of studies of the effectiveness and limits of individual hearing protectors.

Any hearing protector, if compliant with its certification and adapted to the user and his environment, is effective if it's worn for 100% of the hours he is exposed to noise... This applies to earmuffs; disposable earplugs; and reusable, molded, or custom earplugs.

...despite still more restrictive legislation
...despite the efforts of noisy businesses to raise awareness
...despite the efforts of manufacturers of disposable earplugs and other earmuffs to deliver even more effective products
...and despite the efforts of people exposed to over 80 decibels to wear their protectors
...the results are not good!
Hearing loss and occupational deafness continue to grow everywhere in the world!

Are disposable earplugs properly fitted?

To be effective, hearing protector must be worn 100% of the time an employee is exposed to noise!
Even if wearing a earplug for six hours out of eight hours of exposure is better than wearing it for only three, the only way to truly preserve your hearing health is to wear it constantly, for the entire eight hours.

Failing to do so can advance the onset of hearing fatigue by 5 to 30 years, and cause occupational deafness.
In addition, the minute workers are first exposed without effective hearing protection, they are disturbed: aggravated, stressed, and tired because of the noise.
Sleep problems and a possible increase in blood pressure will disrupt his body and its systems.

Man removing his earmuff to communicate

Why disposable earplugs are not worn 100% of the time spent in a noisy environment?

Five reasons for the lack of a "reflex" of the ear plugs wearing:

  • A lack of knowledge about noise and its effects
  • A lack of awareness of "noise-related risk" on the part of all stakeholders 
  • Hearing protectors not fitted to the employee and the environment
  • A lack of monitoring to verify hearing protector effectiveness
  • Ineffective short-term strategic choices (such as cost) to protect each employee's health against the long-term risk of occupational deafness.
    And yet, regardless of the price of the protector (3 cents, $1, or $200), if it is not worn 100% of the time a worker is exposed to noise, it is too expensive!

Unfortunately, everyone thinks they are doing well:

  • The company when the employees wear disposable earplugs, no matter the brand
  • The employee who only uses disposable ear plugs when the environment is too loud
  • Manufacturers of classic types of hearing protector, when they invest in effectiveness tests, in communication around the establishment of good practices, in the choice of the most suitable protector

The custom earplugs stand out as the ideal solution

For several years, studies have highlighted the problems of disposable ear plugs: lack of comfort, too much attenuation, struggle in implementation etc. In response, manufacturers of custom hearing protectors appeared in the early 1980s, mainly in Europe (Netherlands, Switzerland, and France). Their goal: improve comfort and resolve inability to communicate that came with classic protectors.

It was a success, and custom earplugs were adopted! Thousands of companies switched from disposable to custom ear plugs.

By 2015, custom-made hearing protectors protect the hearing of:

  • 40% of noisy businesses in the Netherlands
  • 20% of employees exposed to noise in France
  • Nearly 10% of workers exposed to noise in Germany
  • Less than 1% of the employees exposed to noise in the USA, Australia, Brazil, and China

The underlying trend toward buying custom earplugs for each employee is poised to change the economy and the lives of workers exposed to noise. Today, the opportunity expands with new, more sophisticated ear protectors of more accurate digital fabrication, and service benefits processes to ensure they are worn 100% of the time of exposure to noise.

Custom hearing protector

Conclusion: Effective custom solutions are the substitute for disposable ear plugs.

Performance, cost-effectiveness, comfort, and communication... If you try the custom earplugs, you will adopt them!

More companies and their employees will become aware of the noise-related risk, and the hearing health of more employees will be preserved, with less and less occupational deafness.

Protect, educate, and validate are the components of Cotral Lab's solution to hearing loss. Cotral Lab offers full assistance in setting up an effective hearing protection solution: hearing protectors that are matched to the exact environmental noise levels, and other benefits that ensure that they are worn 100% of the time that a person is exposed to noise.