Hearing protectors

Selection of hearing protectors

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Different hearing protectors
Source: IFA

German legal provisions governing hearing protectors

Irrespective of the actual level of workplace noise, employers have an obligation to prevent or reduce it as far as possible. The state of the art serves as the point of reference for this purpose. If one of the upper action values of the German Ordinance on noise and vibration protection is violated, the employer must draw up a plan of technical and organizational noise abatement measures, and implement them.

If the noise exposure cannot be avoided, suitable hearing protection must be selected. The Ordinance on noise and vibration protection requires the employer to offer his employees suitable hearing protection when the lower action values for exposure are exceeded (LEX,8h > 80 dB(A) and LpC,peak > 135 dB(C)). Once the upper action values have been reached, wearing of the hearing protection is mandatory (LEX,8h ≥ 85 dB(A) and LpC,peak ≥ 137 dB(C)).

The hearing protection selected must be such that the exposure limit values at the user's ear are observed in consideration of the sound attenuation of the hearing protector. For the residual level L’ at the ear, the following therefore apply: L’EX,8h ≤ 85 dB(A) and L’pC,peak ≤ 137 dB(C). The HML check is used as the default method in Germany for calculation of the residual level at the ear. It must first be determined whether the noise at the workplace is generally of high or medium frequency (HM class) or low frequency (L class). Accordingly, either the M value or the L value of the hearing protector is then used as the sound attenuation.

Correction values must also be applied for use in the field. These take account of the fact that the attenuation values measured during type testing of the hearing protector are generally not reached in industrial use. Besides ageing and soiling of the products, a particular reason for this is incorrect or careless fitting of the hearing protector.

More detailed information on the HML check and correction values for use in the field can be found in DGUV Regel 112-194 (so far: BGR/GUV-R 194) and DGUV Information 212-024 (so far: BGI/GUV-I 5024). This selection method also forms the basis for the IFA selection program (see below) and the IFA list of approved products contained in DGUV Regel 112-194.

For custom-moulded earplugs which are individually formed to the wearer's ear canal, both the DGUV publications and the state technical rules governing noise pursuant to the Ordinance on noise and vibration protection (Section 6.2.3) require a fitting check to be performed following delivery (within six months) and subsequently at regular intervals of not more than two years. Only by this means can the correct fitting of custom-moulded earplugs be assured and thus also the sound attenuation as determined in the type testing and documented in the user information for the product concerned. Comprehensive information on this topic can be found in the information module provided by the specialized field of hearing protection within the DGUV's "Personal protective equipment" expert committee (download module (PDF, 45 kB).

Information on hearing protection

The most important information concerning the selection and use of hearing protectors can be found in DGUV Information 212-024. A more detailed description can be found in DGUV Regel 112-194 governing the use of hearing protection. These publications can be obtained from www.dguv.de/publikationen.

The specialist field of hearing protection within the DGUV's "Personal protective equipment" expert committee is also a source of publications and information. These particularly include the guidelines for prevention, which provide even more detailed information on certain topics.

Two PC-based selection programs are available for download from the IFA. A general program (in German) is used for the input of exposure and further characteristics of the workplace (such as high dust load or signal audibility); the program then creates a list of suitable products. The second program is intended specifically for musicians. Besides the selection of hearing protectors that are particularly suitable for this occupational group, it also contains a module for calculation of the actual noise exposure over a single week.

Some working areas are subject to specific requirements concerning the signal audibility when hearing protection is worn. Further information on this aspect can be found under Signal audibility when wearing hearing protectors.

Testing and certification of hearing protectors

Hearing protectors constitute Category II personal protective equipment and may be placed on the market only with an EC type-examination certificate. The IFA, affiliated to DGUV Test, is a notified test and certification body for hearing protectors. It performs type testing and issues EC type-examination certificates. The manufacturer confirms that his product complies with the relevant EU directive (89/686/EEC) by applying the CE mark and issuing his declaration of conformity. The IFA offers development examinations as an additional service, by means of which manufacturers are able to identify deficits at the prototype stage.