Your mother is a smart woman, but there are some things that are completely safe to insert in your ear.
Most of us heard the old elbow bit from our mom, and yes: It is true that using cotton swabs, erasers, pen caps, paper clips or pinky fingers to clean the ears is not safe. But earplugs are designed to protect the sensitive hearing mechanisms while never coming close to touching the ear drum—even when deeply inserted. (But remember: Your mother was right about everything else.)
Removing an earplug for just a few minutes in an area where HPD is mandated during the workday will negatively affect overall protection effectiveness, raising your NIHL risk dramatically.
Removing a 30 NRR earplug for only five minutes reduces effective protection to only 26 dB. Removing the earplug for 30 minutes and the effective protection drops to 18 dB during an eight-hour shift. This seemingly small act can turn adequate protection into increased NIHL risk.
Foam earplugs offer more protection from noise than earmuffs—when they’re properly fit in the ear canal.
It’s more about correct use than style: A poorly-fit foam earplug actually offers little or no protection from noise. And that piece of cocktail napkin you grabbed from the bar and moistened with saliva? A very, very distant third place.
One-on-one training has the most significant impact a good earplug fit.
In a recent study of factors that influence a good earplug fit, there were no personal factors that were accurate predictors of a good fit of an ear plug in the field: Gender, age, years in noise, ear canal size, familiarity with product, and the model of earplug were simply not good predictors of whether a user would achieve good attenuation.
When program factors were evaluated to predict a good ear plug fit, there was one factor that stood out distinctly with a strong correlation: one-on-one training. That is, the more often a worker had received individual training in the proper use of hearing protectors, the higher the probability of a good fit. The same could not be said for group training; it appeared to make no difference at all whether a worker had attended zero, five, or 10 group training sessions in hearing protection, when measuring good attenuation in the field. (There are other good reasons to offer group training in a Hearing Conservation Program, but group training is not the best method for teaching hearing protector fitting procedures.)
Enforcement was also a good predictor of good earplug performance, but only when it was coupled with one-on-one training. When strong enforcement policies were in place without proper training, workers were actually more likely to have a poor fit than a good fit.