Sarah Mitchell

Construction workers encounter various types of noise on the jobsite. They, for instance, hear bulldozers moving materials, electric saws cutting lumber and jackhammers drilling into the ground.

Although the noise may not sound as dangerous as other hazards present in demolition and construction sites, it can negatively affect the worker’s safety and health. Construction workers, for instance, may develop occupational hearing loss (OHL).

A report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health revealed that approximately 24 percent of the hearing difficulty among workers in the United States is due to occupational exposures.

You can’t eliminate noise in the jobsite but you can protect your construction workers from it. Apart from enclosing the source of the noise and using quieter construction equipment, you can reduce the likelihood of occupational hearing loss with quality earmuffs.

What are Earmuffs Used for?

outer ear
Occupational hearing loss can negatively impact your quality of life. Protect your ears by wearing earmuffs. Photo by Angela Roma from Pexels

This ear protection gear is a kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) that safeguards a person’s ears from deafening noise pollution. The same hearing protection also protects workers from dust and variations in temperature, especially cold.

Earmuffs, which you’ll find in the shape of a pair of cups, are usually made of thermoplastics and sponge. You’ll find these “cups” connected on the outer ends of a plastic or steel headband to fit over the top of the ears.

This piece of construction ear protection comes in two types. The first one is thermal earmuffs. As the name suggests, it protects the worker against cold.

The second type is acoustic earmuffs, which workers use against noise pollution. These ear protectors can protect the ears from environmental noises generated by nature, equipment and machines.

Earmuffs are typically required when noise levels in a job or construction site exceed 80 decibels.

The Two Types of Earmuffs

Earmuffs generally fall under two categories: active and passive.

Active earmuffs 

These feature microphones and an electronic component that enable the wearer to control their access to communication while attenuating background noise. This is ideal for construction workers who may still be required to listen to external sources, such as machinery work or the instructions from their supervisor.

A variation of this particular earmuff is the active noise reduction earmuff. This features active noise or electronic noise cancellation to attenuate low-frequency noise. This hearing protection device comes with a circuit, a microphone and a speaker that cancels out the noise actively.

When a signal enters the microphone, the electronics within this ear protection gear cast a signal back that’s 180 degrees out of phase with the opposing signal. This process “cancels” the signal. The purpose of this particular active earmuff is to safeguard against continuous low-frequency sounds, including airfields, heavy tractors and diesel locomotives.

Passive earmuffs

Passive ones, on the other hand, attenuate noise based on the materials of the equipment. The structure and material of the ear protection gear can decrease the level of sound transmitted through the ear canal. Materials, such as cupped foam, will obstruct the sound due to the dampening and thick properties of the foam.

Earmuffs vs. Earplugs: What’s the Difference?

Many tend to think that earplugs work the same as earmuffs. After all, they both offer noise protection for the ears. Even though the purpose of these two products is to preserve your hearing, they look and function differently.

Earmuffs are soft ear cushions that attenuate sound. They’re bigger than earplugs, which means that you won’t lose them easily in a construction site or other work environment.

Earplugs, on the other hand, are products that you insert inside your ear. Their purpose is to obstruct the ear canal. You can buy disposable and reusable versions of this ear protection gear. What’s more, they’re more convenient in confined work locations and better in humid or hot areas.

Does this mean that earplugs are better than earmuffs (or vice versa)? The answer is not necessarily.

Remember that the choice of hearing protectors is a highly personal one. Your choice will depend on a number of factors, including the suitability of the ear protector for the worker, comfort and level of noise. More importantly, the hearing protection gear must provide the desired noise reduction.

How Do Earmuffs Work?

This hearing protection equipment usually comes with acoustic foam that absorbs sound waves by bumping up air resistance. This minimizes the amplitude of the waves and transforms the energy into heat.

Do take note, though, that putting on a pair of noise-reduction earmuffs while working on power tools or other types of noisy equipment won’t completely protect your ears from potential damage. These products aim to reduce the likelihood of permanent hearing loss.

How Do You Use Earmuffs?

Purchasing top-quality earmuffs isn’t enough. You have to learn how to wear them properly.

Earmuffs come in various styles. Here’s a quick guide to putting them on correctly:

Headband Earmuffs

  1. Put the earcups firmly over each ear.
  2. Slide the headband up or down to adjust the earmuffs.

Neckband Earmuffs

  1. Use the headband strap (located between the earcups) to adjust the length of the earmuffs. Make sure that they fit well on top of your head.
  2. Place the earcups on both ears.

Cap-Mounted Earmuffs

  1. Mount the earmuff adapters to both sides of the hard hat by attaching them firmly into the slots.
  2. Slide the earmuff housing down into the adapter. Make sure to connect each earmuff into the respective adapter.
  3. Push down on the earcup to ensure a proper fit. You’ll know that your earmuffs are properly fitted when you hear them click into place.
  4. Fasten the earmuffs firmly by lifting the arm attachment up and down.

How to Take Care of Earmuffs 

Durable, quality earmuffs can withstand years of regular usage. You can prolong the lifespan of your ear protection gear by following a few key care instructions.

When your earmuffs look dirty, clean the headband and ear cushions regularly using water and mild soap. If the foam inserts and cushions appear worn or damaged, replace them as soon as possible. Ideally, you should replace these components every 6 to 12 months, as damaged cushions can affect attenuation.

Ear protection is vital in jobsites. Once excessive noise damages your hearing, you can’t fix it. That’s why you need to wear earmuffs and comply with hearing protection controls in the workplace.

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