According to OSHA, around 30 million American workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise every year. This staggering number—and the OSHA standards that result from this data—mean that employers across the country are exploring ways in which to reduce and eliminate this hazard.
In a recent article in the Safety and Health Magazine, there are a number of trends to keep an eye on this year, including education, the need for better fitting devices, and electronic hearing protection systems “that permit situational awareness”.
In choosing an intrinsically safe headset for your safety program, it is critical that you provide education to workers using the device. An improper fit will result in reduced efficacy—or worse—misuse of the product entirely.
In an effort to help you choose an appropriate solution for your environment, we have compiled the top ten factors you should consider when selecting a Bluetooth® headset.
Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)
Arguably the most important of the 10 factors and sometimes referred to as “hearing protection rating”, the NRR quickly and easily lets you know how well a hearing safety device will work in the real world. Think of it as a standard ruler for hearing safety that runs from 0 dB to around 31 dB. The higher the NRR of the device, the greater its potential is for noise reduction. This is an important factor in choosing hearing safety devices for your workplace safety program since the NRR is independently driven by OSHA’s noise standard, 29 CFR. According to 29 CFR 1910, employers must provide employees with the personal equipment needed to protect them in hazardous environments, including hearing protection, eye protection, steel-toe shoes.
Intrinsically Safe Dual Hearing Protection
Dual hearing protection is the next important factor when selecting an intrinsically safe Bluetooth® for your safety protection program. Dual protection just means that you are leveraging two forms of protection with your hearing safety device. For example, a device solution that uses both earplugs AND a headset would be considered dual protection. By its definition, dual hearing protection is typically more effective in extremely high noise environments.
Bluetooth® and Short-Range Capability
Since you’re considering Bluetooth® already, we won’t go into WHY you would choose Bluetooth®, but it’s important to understand how Bluetooth® and short-range capability might improve workers’ production efficiencies. Does your existing communications solution interfere with their regular duties? Are cables a distraction? Do workers toggle between communication needs within a close range group headset-to-headset and communication with an outside group using two-way? Do they need to remove their headset in order to make a phone call via smartphone? During phone calls would it be beneficial to hear short-range radio communications without cross-talk interference? If so, Bluetooth® and short-range is the optimal solution for your operation.
Simultaneous Capability: Bluetooth and Two-Way Radio
In some environments, it’s critical for your workers to have two-way radio functionality. In this case, if you are considering adding Bluetooth® functionality, an integrated, simultaneous Bluetooth® and a two-way radio solution are ideal. If you’re dealing with short-range only, then this will have less of an impact on your decision.
Volume Limiting Speaker
Sometimes workers like to override the stated safety requirements and adjust their own volume. This is an easy way they can sidestep your safety program and limit the effectiveness of the devices. You will want to consider if your high noise environment dictates the need for more control here. If so, consider a device that has a built-in volume-limiting speaker.
One often-overlooked aspect of safety programs is an ongoing cost of consumption. On any product that leverages batteries, consider calculating the lifetime cost of replacement batteries. This can often add up to an un-budgeted expense ranging in the thousands. If your safety program is keeping an eye on cost, you may value a solution that leverages rechargeable battery packs.
Climate / Temperature Tolerance
Many high-noise environments are also accompanied by extreme temperatures and weather conditions. Some intrinsically safe devices operate well within regular temperature ranges but begin to break down as those approach extremes. Consider the environmental conditions the work is being done in, and whether or not your hearing safety devices have been manufactured with this in mind.
Typically high noise environments are accompanied by high-impact activity—even if it’s just a worker throwing the headset into a locker. It’s important that your headset be lightweight—yet durable enough to be worn all day long. Many headsets save on cost at the expense of being big and bulky. This leads us to our next factor...
This may not seem like a critical factor when making a purchasing decision—but it is. Comfort will determine whether employees will actually use—and benefit from—your hearing protection solution. Make sure to review the material used to manufacture the device, and test its comfort level against other, comparable devices. A more comfortable set means it will more likely be used, and your hearing protection plan will be more successful.
Obviously, the cost is an important factor. We list costs last, as it is typically at the top of the list. Most quality products can range from 300 to 1000 or more. Anything below this price will not last, work properly in extreme temperatures, or be comfortable enough for workers to leverage. Anything higher and you may be paying for features that your team just doesn’t need.
In the End, it’s All About Your Unique Environment
Every work environment presents its own unique challenges. Perhaps the temperature is extremely cold. Maybe your work schedule extends beyond typical battery life. Perhaps your job site requires a combination of short and long-range communication. Whatever your environment and requirements, it's important that you don’t compromise when creating your hearing safety program. It is critical to protect your workers’ safety, and there are solutions out there that can be tailored to meet your specific requirements.
What unique challenges does your work environment pose to creating your hearing safety plan?
For more information on Intrinsically safe Bluetooth® devices in your safety and hearing programs and environments contact us.
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