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The Safety Brief In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews
and insights into how contractors and safety managers
can be even more effective in protecting their workers.
In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews and insights into how contractors and safety managers can be even more effective in protecting their workers.

Hearing Protection – Muffs, Plugs And NRR

Hearing protection for workers comes in two varieties, earmuffs and earplugs. Hear selection tips for both, including their Noise Reduction Rating (NRR).

In this podcast, Dan Clark outlines the benefits of both muffs and plugs.

Dan also explains the NRR, the EPA ratings label on all hearing protection. The label indicates noise reduction in decibels (dB). However, it’s misleading! Hear how you should actually apply the Noise Reduction Rating.


intro music and effects

Dan Clark: You have two choices in hearing protection: plugs and muffs. To help you decide look at the NRR, the Noise Reduction Rating. More about that in a moment.

Hello, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, tackling health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites, a service of Creative Safety Supply.

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Earplugs or earmuffs? Does it matter? Absolutely. But which type should you use to knock down that occupational noise exposure? The answer depends on a few factors.

First, know the noise levels in your workplace. You can measure it with a noise level meter that measures decibels. Levels about 85 dB are unsafe.

Disposable and reusable earplugs (Wikimedia Commons)

Generally, earmuffs can offer more protection than earplugs, although this is not universally true.


○ Very portable

○ They can be easily worn with other PPE such as hardhats and safety glasses.

○ More comfortable during warm weather.

○ They come in pre-molded varieties


Earmuffs (Wikimedia Commons)

○ The protection level is much more consistent than earplugs because it’s more difficult to wear them wrong.

○ They’re easier to keep track of because they’re not very small.

○ Hygiene is less of an issue because they don’t go inside the ear.

○ They’re more durable.

When picking earplugs or earmuffs, look at the Noise Reduction Rating, the NRR. It’s set up by the EPA. The label lists the decibel reduction, based on lab tests. The higher the NRR, the greater the noise reduction.

NRR label (EPA)

BUT, these tests can’t give real-world predictions: How the hearing protection fits; if it’s dirty; and if the worker doesn’t have much motivation.

So, OSHA strongly recommends applying a 50% correction factor.

Example: If you have earplugs rated at 28 dB NRR, in perfect conditions they would drop noise levels by 28 dB. But, OSHA says to reduce that by 50% so 28 dB becomes 14 dB.

Other considerations when selecting earmuffs or earplugs:

○ Do people need to hear each other?

○ Will the hearing protection need to be taken off and then put back on frequently?

○ Will employees need to carry the protection around with them?

Remember, workers won’t wear hearing protection that’s uncomfortable, hard to use or gets in the way. Initiate a Hearing Conservation Program and let employees choose from all types and sizes of protection. And they should also have help from someone who knows about fitting protection to ears.

Don’t forget the three C’s of hearing protection: Comfort, Convenience and Compatibility.

That’s all for this episode, Hearing Protection – Muffs, Plugs And NRR. Come back for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, a service of Creative Safety Supply. Save 10% off your entire order at with coupon code BIG10.


orange earmuff image © ℗ 2007 Jupiter Images / Getty

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