Your Ideal Hearing Protection Mix: The Food & Beverage Industry

Your Ideal Hearing Protection Mix: The Food & Beverage Industry

When working in the food and beverage industry, the safety of your workers, of your industrial environment and of your products is of the utmost importance. Even the smallest error or malfunction can impact workers’ safety and public health, can cost time and money, and it will affect your business’ reputation.

A first step in reducing these risks is correctly identifying the problem. For some PPE categories, the risks are pretty apparent, like hand protection for use while cutting or eye protection while cleaning equipment. Ensuring your workers wear their PPE correctly can go a long way in making sure you reduce as many risks as possible.

Let’s consider hearing protection in the food & beverage industry. Hearing loss is not always immediate, is typically progressive, and can often be painless. The risks of not implementing a Hearing Loss Program or not having a well-thought hearing protection ecosystem can lead to serious consequences like deafness, tinnitus, fatigue and loss of concentration (leading to accidents which means down time) and even depression. Loud noises are everywhere and can be either consistent or impact noises. These noises can come from grinders to conveyor belts to packing and so on. Personnel, as well as visitors, should be required to wear hearing protection in processing plants, as machineries and installations are very loud. This can mean carrying a mix of hearing protection that covers everyone in your facility from maintenance and line workers all the way to managers and visitors. 

Many food & beverage manufacturing facilities also include a metal detection system to ensure product quality. Choosing a type of hearing protection that is appropriate for the task your worker is performing means you don’t have to worry about PPE getting lost in your product. And selecting hearing protection based on fit, duration of use, and comfort can help with your workers’ willingness to wear their PPE even during long and strenuous workdays.

The risks are so diverse that a single type of hearing protective device won’t be applicable to all situations. You need to select the correct mix of products for your workers, specifically chosen for their particular needs and tasks.

The ideal mix of hearing protection for the food and beverage industry should be chosen based on several criteria:

-          Comfort & fit – the more comfortable, the more the worker will be willing to wear it

-          Appropriate for all-day wear – workers don’t waste time and risk contamination hazards swapping their earplugs mid-shift

-          Adequate for the task at hand – selecting an over-protecting product means your workers can’t hear what’s going on around them and might miss alarms and other important information for their safety and job, while selecting an under-protecting product could expose your workers to auditory risks

-          Appropriate for every worker – materials made for comfort and adjustability work well for a variety of workers

-          Metal detection – the hearing protection has to be easily detectable if it happens to fall in the product

-          Price to value ratio – the hearing protection must perform well so that your employees and visitors can focus on their tasks

To start planning for a hearing protection ecosystem for your enterprise, you need to have accurate data about the hearing needs of your workers. A device like Honeywell’s VeriPRO® makes it easy to get an analysis of the level of protection your workers achieve with various products. Through fit testing, a worker tries a variety of hearing protectors that may be suitable for his or her particular type of work. The VeriPRO is versatile, as it works with any earplug, corded or uncorded, from any manufacturer. And, in a matter of minutes, you get a comprehensive report on whether your employees are receiving optimal protection, require additional training on how to fit their earplugs, or need to try a different model.

Fit testing alone has been shown to improve the level or protection across an entire workforce. Check out this case study from SHAW to see just how great the results can be.

After you determine which earplugs work best for your employees, you can draw a short list comprising the hearing protection needed.

Marc Kirsch, hearing product marketing manager at Honeywell, recommends that you consider your mix of hearing protection products and the value they offer, whether it’s reusability, comfort, easy insertion, etc. The ideal mix should cover your entire facility’s needs. Below is a ranked list of a variety of earplugs, earmuffs and dispensers.

1.       DETECTABLE EARPLUGS – to be used in applications where their quick detection is paramount.

For example, the single-use Laser Trak® earplugs offer high visual and metal detectability, but don’t sacrifice fit,  and comfort, or price – they are comfortable and easy to handle. The TrustFit™ Trak is a hybrid foam/reusable earplug that is designed with a metal band, metallic cord, and best yet, is a push-in plug that means no-rolling down the foam. It can also be used for up to an entire work week! If longer term wear is your goal, Honeywell also makes two of their most popular reusables in a metal detectable version, Fusion® and SmartFit®, detectable by x-ray or electromagnetically, so they work well in process industries such as food, beverage, paper and pulp.

2.       SINGLE-USE EARPLUGS – these are exactly what their name says: used in situations where hygiene requirements present a problem for reuse. These earplugs are also the most common, so you can choose confidently based on the level of comfort, noise-blocking performance, and firmness. Corded tends to be used much more frequently than uncorded so that it is easy to visually identify if it were to fall into your product.

For example, the Max® packs superior noise-blocking performance and high comfort.  Laser Lite® delivers high-visibility and its formable foam expands to fit most wearers. At the same time, the FirmFit® has a distinct, easy to spot color and is firmer, yet comfortable to wear, while the X-TREME™ is a cost-effective, highly-visible, comfortable earplug. 

3.       EARMUFFS – this type of hearing protection is used when you need a one-size-fits-all solution and are easy to put on and take off.

The passive earmuffs form the Verishield 100 Series® provide superior hearing protection in a lightweight and comfortable design. Because they have a wide cup opening and are highly adjustable, they can fit a wide range of head sizes. The new memory foam means a level of comfort that makes it easy to wear all day long.

Besides the passive earmuffs, the VeriShield family also includes the new VeriShield Smart Hearing Solution® which is an innovative combination of technology with hearing loss prevention.  Marc Kirsch says “this new solution can help you prevent hearing loss before it happens. By helping safety managers see which employees are at the highest risk, they can confidently address risks and make decisions to help proactively protect hearing loss”.

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