April 19, 2013

The advantages and limitations of earplugs and earmuffs

The advantages and limitations of earplugs and earmuffs
The best way to prevent any hearing loss is to reduce the noise present in the work environment. However, it will often be impossible to do so. Yet, all we have to do is select the right hearing protector to ensure the most efficient protection in a given environment.
For employers searching for hearing protection for their employees, the best way to ensure the use and acceptance of protective equipment, is to offer both earplugs and earmuffs. The worker will then be able to choose the best possible protection as, most of the time, it is a matter of personal preference.

Of course, in addition to wearing the hearing protection, we must also ensure that the worker respects a certain degree of hearing protection required in his work environment. In order to provide a more accurate assessment, the OHSA suggests the following calculations to estimate the actual level of protection from a hearing protector: (dBA + 7) – NRR or dBA – (NRR - 7). Here is an example of the application: the level of noise in the work environment = 100 dBA and the NRR of the hearing protector used is 19 dB. The level of exposure should be the following: 100 – (19 – 7) = 88 dBA. It is important to carry out this exercise with your hearing protectors as the results of the testing performed in laboratory by the manufacturers to evaluate the protection level of their products are often inaccurate compared to actual results.

Knowing the exposure levels in your work place is the first step in determining the NRR level of the hearing protector, it is also important to insure the hearing protection is properly fitted and worn, at all times, in the environment. Earplugs are often improperly inserted for maximum protection.

Although the choice of a protector is often a matter of taste and comfort, there are advantages and limitations to consider for the different types of hearing protectors. The following table provides a comparison between earplugs and earmuffs.

Comparison of Hearing Protection
Earplugs Earmuffs


  • Small and easy to carry around
  • Convenient to use with other hearing protection
  • More comfortable for long-term use in hot and humid work environments
  • Convenient for use in confined work areas


  • Less attenuation variability among users
  • Designed so that one size fits most head sizes
  • Easily seen at a distance to assist in the monitoring of their use
  • Difficult to lose
  • Possible to wear even with a minor ear infection


  • Requires more time to put on
  • May not be properly fitted for maximum protection
  • More difficult to insert and remove
  • May irritate the ear canal
  • Easily lost or misplaced
  • More difficult to see and monitor usage


  • Less portable and heavier
  • More difficult to use simultaneously with another hearing protector
  • More uncomfortable in hot and humid work environment
  • More inconvenient for use in confined spaces
  • May interfere with the wearing of safety or prescription glasses: glass temples may result in breaking the seal between the earmuff and the skin, therefore decreasing hearing protection

Do not hesitate to contact your SPI Health and Safety advisor for more details on our various hearing protection products available or to get answers to your questions on this subject.
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