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Custom fitted hearing protection makes inroads

September 28, 2008
by Norm Tollinsky
In: News with 0 Comments
Rock musicians and motorcyclists wear them and so do wives of inveterate snorers. Now, the db Blocker, a custom fitted ear insert manufactured by Custom Protect Ear Inc. of Surrey, British Columbia is also keeping the noise levels down in mines in Northern Ontario.
Distributed in the region by Soucie Salo Safety Inc., the db Blocker is widely used in Vale Inco operations in Sudbury and Thompson, Manitoba, and is gaining acceptance by other mining companies and suppliers concerned about exposing their employees to potential hearing loss.Off the shelf ear plugs – the pliable foam inserts that are still widely used in the mining industry – have a noise reduction rating, but safety associations and mining companies alike lack confidence in them, said Pat Heaphy, branch manager, Soucie Salo Safety.“The problem is that three-quarters of the people who use them don’t put them in properly. They squeeze them, they put them in crooked or they’re dirty. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has a formula for downgrading the noise reduction ratings of foam earplugs. They subtract seven and divide by two, so a plug with a noise reduction rating of 30 ends up being 11.5,” said Heaphy. “Vale Inco divides by two.”Unlike the foam plugs, the db Blocker is not subject to derating.Government regulations limit the noise levels miners and surface plant workers are exposed to, explained Soucie Salo technical representative Jerry Romanyszyn.“Inco’s problem was that workers would exceed their daily noise limit, so they’d have to be reassigned to light duty or work somewhere else. By law, you’re only allowed to be exposed to so much noise during an eight-hour shift based on the decibel level and the hearing protection you’re wearing.”

Vale Inco started using the db Blocker in its matte processing plant in 2005. Now, they’re widely used throughout the company’s Sudbury and Thompson, Manitoba operations. Xstrata Copper in Timmins, Mining Technologies International, Atlas Copco and bucket manufacturer Carriere Industrial Supply have also adopted the db Blocker as standard personal protection equipment.

In addition to protecting their workers’ hearing and ensuring they are available for a full shift, the db Blocker assists in reducing Workplace Safety Insurance Board claims for hearing loss.

“Hearing loss doesn’t happen overnight,” said Romanyszyn. “It’s gradual over time and it’s permanent.”

Molds

Specially trained Soucie Salo technicians make a mold using a medical-grade silicon solution that is inserted into the ear and left to harden for a few minutes. The molds are shipped to Custom Protect Ear in British Columbia and the finished product is returned within 30 days.

There is an initial upfront cost, but the db Blocker is less expensive than the foam plugs when the costs of the two options are calculated over the course of a year, claims Heaphy.

“Typically, disposables will cost the company $164 per year per employee – that’s three sets of foam plugs per day at 10 to 20 cents each. The outlay for a pair of db Blockers is anywhere from $120 to $140, and that’s the only expense for five years, so there’s a big saving to the company.”

The db Blocker comes in several different models. There’s a solid variety that blocks noise across the frequency spectrum and another designed to block all of the lower and higher frequencies, but not the frequencies associated with normal conversation. This allows miners and other workers to communicate with each other without removing their hearing protection.

There are also models designed for integration with cell phones, radios and MP3 players, which allows workers to block out noise from their work environment while talking on the phone or listening to their favourite music – hopefully, at a reasonable volume.

www.souciesalosafety.com

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