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What is the Difference Between Ear Plugs and Ear Muffs?

Posted by OBBCO Safety & Supply on 10/15/2015 to 3M

Fall is a time of downed trees and limbs, which means chainsaws, bush hogs and chippers get a workout. When wood-cutting tools are in use, chances are your ears are getting a workout, too. Chain saws can have a sound intensity of 110 dBA, which means operating for only two minutes without ear protection can damage your hearing.

If you’re working with power tools or heavy equipment this fall, make sure you choose the right ear protection for the job. There is a difference between ear plugs and ear muffs – each has their use and performance objectives.

312-1208_312-1222_thumb.jpgEar plugs are designed to do just that – plug the ear canal and prevent noise from reaching the ear drum. The most popular are foam that are compressed before inserting in the ear, and then expand to fill the space. In general, ear plugs are simple to use, less expensive than ear muffs and are more comfortable in hot and damp work areas. They can provide less protection than high-quality ear muffs.

Ear muffs feature a padded dome that covers the entire ear, and a head or neck band to hold the dome portion flush against your skin. Ear muffs generally provide more protection than plugs, and are easier and faster to put on. They can be less comfortable and can get in the way in confined spaces (not usually an issue in outdoor wood-clearing activities).

Ear muffs can also be more inconvenient when using other personal safety equipment such as goggles, safety glasses, respirators and hoods. Wearing glasses usually breaks the seal of the dome around the ear, meaning you have decreased hearing protection.3m-H9P3E_app_thumb.jpg

We have found the ear muffs from 3M offer a variety of performance levels, with the Peltor Optime offering 105 dBA of protection. 3M also provides a number of ear plug solutions, including corded, cordless, pots, push-in plugs and others. The E-A-R E-A-RSOFT are particularly popular, rated to 33 dBA of protection.

Our suggestion: consider what additional safety gear you will be wearing, whether you wear glasses, the work environment and your own comfort. If the environment will result in noise exposure over 100 dBA (running a chain saw, for example), most safety and health organizations will recommend wearing both ear plugs AND ear muffs for maximum protection.

You can learn more about noise and hearing loss prevention on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/prevention.html.


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