These days it seems like more and more companies are pushing for proper fit testing for hearing protection devices (HPD’s). But what does fit testing mean? And what are the benefits? Fit testing is a good way to ensure your employees hearing is actually being protected when wearing headsets, earmuffs, or earplugs.

In this article, we’ll explain.

  • What is fit testing?
  • How does it work?
  • Why it’s important.
  • Is it required by OSHA?
  • Benefits of Fit Testing

What is fit testing?

Hearing protector fit testing measures the true attenuation of a hearing protection device while they’re being worn by the individual. Attenuation is the measurement of noise reduction a hearing protection device provides, expressed as a number or rating. The higher the value, the greater the amount of noise reduction. The most common methods for expressing attenuation are NRR (noise reduction rating) or SNR (single number rating).

The purpose of fit testing is to validate the actual attenuation of a hearing protection device and if it can be successfully used in their work environment.

Many companies who manufacture hearing protection devices like headsets, earmuffs, and earplugs, are urging customers to properly fit test their HPD’s to ensure their health and safety.

How It Works

There are four types of Fit Testing methods to measure attenuation.

  1. Real-Ear Attenuation at Threshold
  2. Real-Ear Attenuation above threshold
  3. Microphone In Real-Ear
  4. In-Ear Dosimetry

Most fit testing validation systems use Microphone In Real-Ear (M-IRE) where a test earplug is worn under the hearing protection device and a loud noise is sampled from a computer. Software then calculates a Personal Attenuation Rating.

Personal Attenuation Rating or PAR, is generated. PAR tells us the actual level of attenuation of a hearing protection device for an individual, while it’s fitted on their ear. The PAR is a more accurate calculation of noise reduction than the general lab testing rating. It’s important to remember that each system may use a different approach to calculating PAR and therefore results may not be comparable across systems.

With Real Ear Attenuation At (1) and Above the Threshold (2), test signals are presented with and without earplugs at or above a threshold. The difference in rating while wearing the earplugs and without wearing the earplugs will give you your PAR.

Lastly, with In-Ear Dosimetry, a probe microphone is inserted into modified earplugs and monitor the actual noise exposure under a hearing protection device.

In some systems, tests can be completed in a couple of minutes. This way you are able to test and retest all employees until the desired protection is reached.

Why it’s Important.

Attenuation ratings like NRR, SNR, and SLC, are numbers that represent the amount of sound reduction provided by a hearing protection device. Attenuation ratings are determined in laboratory conditions and use group statistics that predict how an individual might wear the hearing protector in the field. With that comes a lot of inconsistencies.

The problem with this approach is that as an individual you can actually be receiving less attenuation than what the general attenuation rating of the HPD states. This is why it’s important to do personal fit testing to understand the actual amount of attenuation you’ll be receiving.

The goal of personal fit testing in a hearing protection device is to provide individuals with feedback on the proper fit and that it will give them enough hearing protection in the environment they are in.

Is Fit Testing Required by OSHA?

While Fit Testing is not required by OSHA, it is strongly recommended. It’s important to note though that as an employer, according to OSHA’s Noise Standard, it is a requirement to provide training on the use and care of hearing protection devices and ensure proper initial fit as well as supervise their correct use.

While employers are allowed to use any means they find suitable during this training, personal fit testing is an acceptable way to achieve this requirement.

The Benefits of Fit Testing

  • Valuable training tool
  • Ensure an individual has a proper fitting HPD
  • Reduce occupational hearing loss
  • Help select better HPD’s
  • Improve employee’s health and safety
  • Motivate personnel to wear hearing protection in loud environments

Remember, you only have one set of ears. Once you lose your hearing, it’s not coming back. Wearing hearing protection devices like earmuffs can help protect your hearing but just wearing them might not be enough. Fit testing will help you learn the proper fit and the actual amount of hearing protection provided so you can be confident you’re giving your ears the best protection possible.

First Source Wireless has helped personnel in all sorts of industries find the best hearing protection device that fits their needs. We understand the importance of protecting your hearing in loud environments. Let us help you find the right solution for you and your team. Shop now or contact us with questions!

TAYLOR THOMAS is a Marketing Manager at First Source Wireless. With her experience in critical communications, she helped public safety professionals enhance their communication through the help of two-way radios and headsets.

Fit testing

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