Hearing protectors

Selection of hearing protectors

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Different hearing protectors
Source: IFA

Hearing protectors are personal protective equipments which reduce the impact of noise on the hearing to such an extent that a noise induced hearing loss does not occur or worsen. They are used at work places where health-endangering noise exposure occurs. In Germany, this is the case for some four to five million employees.

The following sections contain the legal provisions regarding hearing protection as well as information on guidance documents for selecting hearing protectors, on the European PPE regulation and on testing and certification of hearing protectors.

  • German legal provisions governing hearing protectors

    German legal provisions governing hearing protectors

    Irrespective of the level of noise exposure at workplaces, the German Occupational Health and Safety Act (ArbSchG) states that it must be avoided or reduced to the greatest possible extent. 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 are reached, the use of hearing protection as specified is a requirement (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.

    Derating 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 derating 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 three 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, 56 kB).

  • Information on hearing protection

    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. This information can also be accessed through the hearing protectors web app.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.

  • New PPE Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/425): consequences for the use of hearing protectors

    New PPE Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/425): consequences for the use of hearing protectors

    As of 21 April 2019, personal protective equipment (PPE) may be placed on the market by the manufacturer only if it satisfies Regulation (EU) 2016/425 (PPE Regulation) (refer also to the IFA's specialist information on the subject of PPE). The PPE Regulation reclassifies hearing protectors as category III PPE. This category covers PPE against death and irreversible damage to health. Category III PPE is subject to stricter safety requirements. This has consequences both for the manufacturer (see below) and for the user. Manufacturers are particularly affected by the new requirement for supervision of the production process.

    For a specified transition period, both "category II PPE" and "category III PPE" hearing protectors will be available on the market. The latter can be identified by the identification number of the notified body supervising production. This number must be applied by the manufacturer in addition to the CE mark.

    Users are subject to the following new requirement: when an item of category III PPE is used, instruction including exercises must be conducted for the users of this PPE. This is set out in DGUV Regulation 1, Section 31, which relates to PPE intended to provide protection against risks of death or irreversible damage to health.

    Instruction is to be provided once a year. Model documents and recommendations concerning the nature and scope of the training are currently being prepared. Information can be found in Annex 6 of DGUV Regel 112-194 (guidance on the qualified use of hearing protectors). This DGUV Rule describes topics and aspects that may be critical during the use of hearing protectors and may potentially reduce their protective action. The proper insertion of foam earplugs, in particular, requires care and training. This is precisely the purpose of the instruction that is to be provided for category III PPE. Annual instruction and accompanying exercises in accordance with DGUV Regulation 1 is however not synonymous with the qualified use in the sense of Annex 6 of DGUV Rule 112-194 and Part 3, Section 6.3.3 of the TRLV technical rules governing noise. In case of a qualified use, application of the derating values for field use is not mandatory, since it is assumed that careful insertion ensures that the sound attenuation values attained in the type examination are also attained in field use. For this purpose, the relevant training must however be conducted four times each year, and documented. Part 3 of the TRLV technical rules governing noise stipulates this procedure for daily noise exposure levels of 110 dB(A) and above. Owing to the associated overhead, its use should be limited to such extreme cases.

  • Testing and certification of hearing protectors

    Testing and certification of hearing protectors

    Hearing protectors constitute category II personal protective equipment in accordance with EU Directive 89/686/EEC and may be placed on the market only in conjunction with an EC type-examination certificate. As of 21 April 2018, the new Regulation (EU) 2016/425 is applicable for type examination. Under this regulation, hearing protectors constitute category III PPE and require annual supervision of production in accordance with Module C2 (Annex VII) or Module D (Annex VIII) in addition to EU type-examination certification (Module B, Annex V). Through DGUV Test, the IFA is accredited and notified as a test and certification body for hearing protectors, and performs type examinations and issues EC/EU type-examination certificates. The manufacturer confirms that his product complies with the relevant EU directive or regulation (89/686/EEC or (EU) 2016/42 respectively) by applying the CE mark and issuing his declaration of conformity. For products approved under the new PPE Regulation, the CE marking must be followed by the identification number of the notified body supervising production.

    EC type-examination certificates issued under Directive 89/686/EEC remain valid until 20 April 2023 unless they expire or otherwise become invalid before that date. These certificates may also be used to place hearing protectors (or other PPE) on the market after 20 April 2019 when the product satisfies Regulation (EU) 2016/425 in all other respects. This transitional arrangement obviates the need for all existing EC type-examination certificates to be re-issued as EU type examination certificates within one year.

    As of 21 April 2018, the IFA will be able to issue only EU type examination certificates under Regulation (EU) 2016/425. Type examination for such products must then be accompanied by entry into a supervision agreement. For all other hearing protectors placed on the market, it is sufficient for the supervision agreement to be available by 21 April 2019, or at an earlier point in time in the event of an EU type examination certificate being issued.

    The IFA offers development examinations as an additional service, by means of which manufacturers are able to identify deficits at the prototype stage.