Protecting Ears to Protect Your Business
Detectamet fully detectable ear plugs comply with the regulations designed to protect the hearing of workers in the food industry. Special packs are available to reduce cross infection from worker to worker and from ear to ear. They also protect the consumers because they are metal and X-ray detectable and accidental contamination will be rejected by the monitors.
In the USA the estimated annual costs due to lost productivity, special education and medical care as a result of untreated hearing loss is set at $56 billion. Applying the same parameters to the EU an estimated cost of EUR 92 billion per year would be exceeded. The annual direct costs for workers’ compensation for hearing loss in Germany for example have been calculated at 190 million euros.
The good intentions of these regulations can be undermined by a number of factors. Firstly the ear protection offered by the employers has to be fit for purpose.
To achieve the noise reduction the protection needs to bring the level of perceived sound down to below the 85dB level. You should check the rating of the plugs before you buy. There are two systems in use. The NRR or noise reduction rating is used in the USA and the SNR, single number rating, is the system used in the EU to indicate the amount of protection offered by a correctly fitted device.
The SNR rating of 24 for example brings the noise level down from 95dB to 71dB. So an employer needs to carry out a noise assessment of the plant and works.
A big challenge is ensuring that staff uses the protection continuously when exposed to the excess noise level. They won’t do that if they find the plugs are uncomfortable to wear. Discomfort can be caused by badly fitting plugs so buying one size to fit all may not be a good idea. A number of alternative designs are available, but Detectamet’s most popular flanged designs are supplied in two and three flange versions that can fit smaller or larger ear canal sizes.
Another disincentive to wearing the plugs can be the discomfort from painful ear infections. A well designed ear plug will not in itself cause problems for the user, but the estimates for the USA indicate that there are as many as 7 million incidents of ear infections per year in the country.
Detectamet’s medical grade silicone material is smooth and hypoallergenic and doesn’t irritate the ear, yet there is always the risk that plugs used by a worker with an ear infection will be picked up accidentally and used by another worker transferring the infection from person to person. Similarly a person with an infection in one ear may re-place the contaminated plug into the opposite ear making absence from work or reduced efficiency twice as likely.
Some businesses follow a single use policy and dispose of the plugs once they have been used. To reduce this expense Detectamet has developed a solution that allows staff to re-use the plugs and avoid cross contamination.
The left to right cross infection can be controlled by using one red plug (left) and one blue plug (right) on a cord. Each set has its own box to help to reduce person to person cross infection. The Sonar plugs can be cleaned and sanitized at the end of the shift using a mild antibacterial soap and holes in the box lets air pass through to dry the plugs. The box can be sequentially numbered to link the issue to individuals.
In situation where there is the risk of the cord being caught in equipment, cordless plugs are available, or an expandable rigid headband version can be specified to fit under the chin or behind the head.
Once the choice is made between re-usable or disposable ear plugs it is important that the workers know how to use them. Training them to fit the plugs correctly is fundamental, and each box of the Sonar plugs has an instruction sheet.
With the workers protected it is also important to protect a food company’s products from contamination. For this reason Detectamet has resolved the hearing protection needs and has also added detectability. Should an earplug or part of an ear plug or the connective cord become lost in the workplace and get into the food process it will be identified by a metal detector or an X-ray detection system as the products pass through. The materials also satisfy the safety requirements of both the EU and US for plastics on contact with food.
For companies preferring disposable ear protectors, Detectamet has just introduced a fully detectable disposable ear plug that can be bought with or without a detectable connecting cord. These have been tested in accordance with the US ANSI S3 19-1047 and found to comply with an NRR rating of 32dB. They have also been assessed as meeting the requirements of EN352-2 and are CE-Marked in accordance with the requirements of European Directive 89/686/EEC.
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