Do You Know The Benefits of Ear Fit Testing?
The onset of hearing loss can introduce additional safety challenges in the workplace, manifesting as a decline in awareness and concentration and resulting in approximately 3400 successful workers' compensation claims annually.
However, there's optimistic news – hearing damage is entirely avoidable with the adoption of suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Ear protection, when correctly designed and fitted, proves highly effective in mitigating industrial noise to safe levels. The pivotal factor, nonetheless, lies in the judicious selection of the right hearing protection, whether it be ear muffs or ear plugs, disposable or reusable. Making informed choices in this regard is crucial for preserving auditory health and overall workplace safety.
You can read more about occupation noise here.
Why Ear Fit Testing is Important:
Personalized Protection: Individuals have unique ear shapes and sizes; ear fit testing ensures custom-fitted hearing protection.
Optimal Performance: Properly fitted hearing protection maximizes its effectiveness in reducing noise exposure and Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHD).
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a condition that results from prolonged exposure to loud noises. It occurs when the delicate structures of the inner ear, responsible for hearing, are damaged due to the impact of excessive noise. This type of hearing loss is gradual and often irreversible.
Standards and Regulations in Australia:
a. Safe Work Australia:
Safe Work Australia emphasizes the importance of hearing protection programs, including fit testing, under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and Regulations.
b. AS/NZS 1270:2002 (Australian/New Zealand Standard):
This standard provides guidelines for the selection, use, and maintenance of hearing protection devices, including ear fit testing procedures,
c. ISO 4869-7:2017 (International Organization for Standardization):
Complementing local standards, ISO 4869-7 outlines methods for the measurement of hearing protection device performance, including fit testing procedures.
Safe Work Australia underscores the significance of hearing protection programs, incorporating fit testing, as outlined in the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and Regulations. This regulatory framework emphasizes the imperative to implement comprehensive measures for safeguarding auditory health within workplaces.
Ear Fit Testing Methods:
a. Real-Ear Attenuation at Threshold (REAT):
Measures the actual noise reduction achieved by an individual wearing hearing protection.
b. Quantitative Field Microphone-in-Real-Ear (MIRE):
Quantitative fit testing utilizes a small microphone in the ear canal to measure the noise levels inside and outside the ear, determining the protection provided.
c. Qualitative Fit Testing
Qualitative fit testing has the subject first listen to sounds, then apply their hearing protection device and repeat the recognition of the same sounds to gauge how effective the hearing protection is.
Benefits of Ear Fit Testing:
a. Personalized Protection:
Ensures that each Australian worker receives hearing protection tailored to their specific ear anatomy.
b. Verification of Protection:
Validates that the selected hearing protection devices meet Australian standards and provide the intended level of noise reduction.
c. Compliance with WHS Legislation:
Meets Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations requirements, demonstrating a commitment to worker safety and health.
Implementing Ear Fit Testing in Australia:
a. Hearing Protection Program:
Integrate ear fit testing into a comprehensive hearing protection program compliant with AS/NZS 1270:2002. This could also be found in the Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) and AS/NZS 4801 programs.
Provide training on how to correctly insert earplugs, the correct use and maintenance of hearing protection devices in line with Australian standards.
c. Regular Monitoring:
Periodically re-evaluate and retest to ensure continued effectiveness and compliance with local legislation. This can be paired with Audiometry testing which is required upon entry of starting an occupation where hearing protection will be utilised to establish baseline hearing and every 2 years thereafter or more often if the workplace noise exposure equals or exceeds 100 dB.
Hearing protection is categorized into five classes, ranging from Class 1, offering the least protection, to Class 5, providing the highest level of protection.
Adhering to Australian standards and legislative requirements, such as those outlined by Safe Work Australia and AS/NZS 1270:2019, is crucial when considering and implementing ear fit testing. This ensures that the testing methods are standardized, reliable, and in compliance with occupational health and safety laws specific to Australia. Ultimately, ear fit testing contributes to a safer work environment by enhancing the reliability of hearing protection measures for Australian workers.
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