Inside the HML Method

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1 Inside the HML Method

2 Introduction Unlike most occupational injuries, there is no visible evidence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). It is not traumatic and often goes unnoticed when it first occurs. Noise-induced hearing loss accumulates over time, its effects realized long after the damage has been done. NIHL is permanent and irreversible. With proper education, motivation and protection, however, it is also 100% preventable. Hearing conservation is about more than supplying your employees with earplugs or earmuffs that block the most noise. It is about finding the solution that s right for your people. At Howard Leight, we realize that the people who depend on our products to protect their hearing are as diverse as you can imagine. And the ways people select the right hearing protection are just as diverse. This guide provides you with insights and tactics to select appropriate earplugs and earmuffs for your employees based on HML attenuation values. While there are several factors that should be considered in the selection of hearing protectors, including comfort, convenience and communication, the HML Method is an effective determinant of protection by High, Medium and Low frequencies of noise.

3 Establishing Noise Measurements As a component of European Union Directive 2003/10/EN, which outlines the protocols for occupational Hearing Conservation Programmes (HCP), workers may not be exposed to noise exposure limits of 87 dba or higher (protected level). In achieving this endeavor, HCP managers are required to determine and assess noise risk in the workplace; reduce exposures through engineering or administrative controls; provide training and appropriate hearing protectors to noise-exposed employees; perform annual audiometry on employees; and assess the programme on a regular basis. In establishing noise risks in the workplace, HCP managers are required to collect representative noise samples through area and personal dosimetry. A sound level meter is used when measuring area noise. It provides a mean value of ambient noise level across all frequencies, and uses a unit called decibel (db) to measure -10 sound pressure level or volume. A, B and C WEIGHTING CURVES A sound level meter measures area noise levels in decibels (db). Photo courtesy of Larson Davis, a PCB Piezotronics division. The human ear is more advanced in how it registers sound than a sound level meter. In fact, the ear does not register sound in the same way as a sound level meter the ear is more sensitive to the frequencies that are most important to us, such as voices, signals and alarms. Sound Level in Decibels A-Weighting B-Weighting C-Weighting 50 To translate the sound measured by the sound level meter into the way the ear registers and is Frequency in Hertz affected by the sound, a filter is applied (A-filter) This A-filtered sound uses the measurement unit dba. The dba value is important to know when determining a noise environment, because it tells us the extent to which the noise affects our hearing. It is also important to know what frequencies are most prominent in the noise environment. This helps us to select the most appropriate earplugs or earmuffs many hearing protectors attenuate, or block noise more than others at different frequencies. To determine the most prominent frequencies, an additional filter is applied (C-filter). The C-filtered sound level uses the unit dbc. If the noise environment consists of mostly low-frequency noise, the C-filtered sound level becomes much higher than the A-filtered sound level. By comparing the dba-value with the dbc-value, you can determine if the area noise consists of mostly high, medium or low frequency noise. Most sound level meters can be set to measure both dba and dbc.

4 How to Apply the HML Method In selecting the appropriate hearing protectors for your noise environments, you will need to know: Noise Levels perform measurements with a sound level meter to determine area noise levels HML Attenuation Data this information is printed on the hearing protector s packaging and in its user instructions HML Table table of attenuation values across High, Medium and Low frequencies Step Example Determine the noise level by measuring dba and dbc with a sound level meter. If you do not have access to the dbc value on a worksite, you can estimate the frequency range by listening. You can also check the type of machines that are used, and determine if they are typically low or high frequency machines. Or you may refer to the chart that displays some examples of machines that have mostly medium to high frequency noise and some that produce typically low frequency noise. dbc = 117 dba = 112 Subtract dba from dbc to determine what type of noise environment you have. If the difference is < 5 Your noise environment is mostly medium to high frequency. Check the H and M value when choosing hearing protection. If the difference is 5 Your noise environment consists of mostly low frequencies. Check the M and L value when selecting hearing protection. dbc - dba = 5 Locate the dbc dba value on the bottom of the HML table.

5 How to Apply the HML Method Continued Step Example Identify the attenuation data of the hearing protector. Start with making a line between the H and M values, then continue to the L value and throughout the whole table. You will find the HML values on the hearing protector s packaging or in its user instructions. Leightning L3 Earmuff, SNR 34, H:33 M:32 L:27 Make a line from your dbc dba value straight up until it meets the attenuation line. This is how much the hearing protector attenuates in your sound environment. It is called the Predicted Noise Level Reduction (PNR) value, which is the estimated attenuation of the hearing protector in db, when the protector is used properly. PNR = 30 db To estimate the attenuation offered by a specific hearing protector in your specific environment, subtract the PNR (Predicted Noise Level Reduction) from the dba noise level measured in your area. dba - PNR = = 72dB

6 Table 1. HML Table

7 Using the HML Method Instead of SNR Though the SNR is a laboratory estimate of protection that a hearing protector is expected to provide in one fixed number, the actual attenuation of the protector at a frequency may be much higher or much lower than the SNR value especially in the low frequencies. The SNR value can make you believe you are protected even if you are not. In table 2, below, we demonstrate the attenuation of four different hearing protectors. All protectors have at least SNR 33 db. As demonstrated in table 2, it is only in the high frequencies that the attenuation reaches levels similar to the SNR value. Table 2. HML Table with Attenuation Data of Earmuffs with High SNR Value Howard Leight Clarity C3 earmuff (SNR 33) Howard Leight Thunder T3 earmuff (SNR 36) Sordin Left/Right large earmuff (SNR 33) Peltor Optime III earmuff (SNR 35)

8 Comparing Hearing Protectors In comparing the attenuation values of different hearing protectors, the HML Method makes it is easy to determine how hearing protectors will attenuate in different sound environments. Table 3 compares three different earmuffs with low SNR values with the HML Method. Table 3. HML Table with Attenuation Data of Earmuffs with Low SNR Values Howard Leight Clarity C1 earmuff SNR 25, Weight 194g. Peltor Optime I earmuff SNR 27, Weight 180g. Sordin Left/Right low earmuff SNR 24, Weight 200g. Note that while the Howard Leight Clarity C1 earmuff varies in attenuation between 24 db and 19 db, the Peltor Optime I earmuff varies between 32 db and 12 db. When you have a small range in variation of attenuation over the HML frequencies, you can be sure that you are protected even if you do not know the frequency of your noise environment.

9 Table 4. HML Table with Attenuation Data of Earmuffs with Medium SNR Values Howard Leight Leighthing L1 earmuff SNR 30, Weight 194g. Peltor Optime II earmuff SNR 31, Weight 210 g. Sordin Left/Right medium earmuff SNR 28, Weight 237g.

10 Avoiding Overprotection Balancing the need to protect your employees without compromising their overall protection from hazardous noise is a challenge for any safety manager. When employees utilize high attenuating earplugs or earmuffs in marginal noise environments, they may be at an additional workplace risk. Too much protection, or overprotection, may isolate employees from important communications, including co-workers voices, machine sounds, alarms and signals. The risks of overprotection are very real when dealing with hearing conservation, and the consequences can be catastrophic. A worker who cannot hear the warning signal of a truck or piece of heavy equipment backing up can be in serious danger. But the consequences are more common and more far-reaching than safety. Workers who cannot hear on the job are much more likely to make mistakes than those who can communicate naturally with their supervisors and co-workers. Also, studies have shown that workers who cannot communicate clearly or effectively with their fellows tend to feel more isolated on the job, and are less likely to be happy or productive. The International Standards Organization recommends that protected noise levels that is, the noise level under the earplug or earmuff should fall within a manageable db range (ISO Guideline EN-458). Protected noise levels over 85 db indicate exposures that put the worker at risk for hearing damage. Protected noise levels under 70 db may indicate overprotection, and workers may feel isolated from their work environment. Table 5. Worker Exposure at the Ear with Hearing Protection, Based on ISO Guideline When studying an HML table, speech and warning signals are most likely high frequencies. High attenuation of high frequency sounds and moderate attenuation of low frequency sounds can overprotect workers against important sounds. Be careful.

11 Your Turn: Apply the HML Method Make your own analysis of hearing protectors using the HML method. We have provided you with a copy of the HML table and a worksheet for your own analysis. HML Worksheet Company Department Equipment dba dbc dbc dba dba Predicted Noise Level Reduction (PNR) Value Estimated Noise Level Under Hearing Protector

12 Glossary A-Weighting A filter applied by noise measurement devices, intended to replicate the frequency sensitivity of the human ear. Sound level meters set to the A-weighting will filter out much of the low-frequency noise they measure, similar to the response of the human ear. In contrast, the C-weighting is a flatter filter, allowing more low frequencies to be measured. Attenuation A reduction in noise level. Hearing protectors are rated for their attenuation; protectors with higher attenuation reduce more noise. C-Weighting A filter applied to noise measurements. In contrast to the A-weighting, the C-weighting is a flatter filter, and allows more low frequencies to be measured. The C-weighting was originally conceived to be the best predictor of the ear s sensitivity to tones at high noise levels. But the ear s risk to damage from noise has since been found to be predicted much better by the A-weighting scale. Noise measurements made with the C-weighting scale are designated dbc. Daily Noise Exposure Level An 8-hour time-weighted average measurement of noise exposure. This measurement includes both continuous and impulsive noise. Exposure Limit The maximum allowable daily noise exposure level, taking account of attenuation provided by hearing protectors worn by a worker. Frequency The physical measurement of the oscillations in a sound wave (measured in units called Hertz). Subjectively, we hear frequency as pitch of a sound. The frequency range that can be perceived by human hearing generally extends from 20 20,000 Hertz, but the sounds that are most useful to us (in the speech and conversation range) are in the narrower range from 300 3,000 Hertz. Audiometric tests administered in industry generally test hearing at six or seven different standardized frequencies: 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000 and sometimes 8000 Hertz. In noise monitoring and audiometric testing, frequency is often measured in thousands of Hertz, or kilohertz (khz).

13 Glossary Continued HML The High-Medium-Low (HML) calculation method is most commonly used in Europe. The HML system is based on eight representative noise spectra. In practice, the HML method provides a sufficiently accurate measure of hearing protector performance. When using this three number system, the first number (H) represents the attenuation afforded in predominately high-frequency environments, the middle number (M) represents the protection afforded in noise environments dominated by medium frequencies and the third number (L) represents the protection afforded in noise environments dominated by low-frequency sounds. The great advantage of HML calculations is that only db(a) and db(c) are required as noise data input. H High frequency attenuation value Represents the attenuation of a hearing protector in noise environments dominated by high frequency sounds. M Medium frequency attenuation value Represents the attenuation of a hearing protector in noise environments dominated by medium frequency sounds. L Low frequency attenuation value Represents the attenuation of a hearing protector in noise environments dominated by low frequency sounds. Lower Action Value (80 dba) The daily noise exposure level at which precautionary measures must be in place. If noise levels exceed 80 dba, then hearing protectors must be available to exposed workers (usage is voluntary) and training must be provided to exposed workers. PNR (Predicted Noise Level Reduction) The expected attenuation of the hearing protector calculated by the HML Method. Peak Sound Pressure The maximum instantaneous value of a C-weighted noise measurement.

14 Glossary Continued Single Number Rating (SNR) The hearing protector rating used by the EU. Attenuation tests are conducted at independent laboratories, using human subjects to determine the average attenuation achieved by the protector. The SNR is found on the packaging of all hearing protectors. Sound Level Meter A noise monitoring device that measures instant area noise levels. Since noise monitoring with a sound level meter is specific to the immediate area where the measurement is being taken, these measurements are also referred to as area sampling. The input to a sound level meter can be filtered through different weightings (see A-weighting and C-weighting) to mimic the reception of the human ear. Optional attachments, such as Octave Band filters, can further restrict the noise measurement only to specific frequency bands. Sound level meters used for regulatory compliance must meet specifications in ANSI Standard S , Specifications for Sound Level Meters. Upper Action Value (85 dba) The daily noise exposure level at which protective measures must be in place. If noise levels exceed 85 dba, the employer must ensure the use of hearing protectors among exposed workers (usage is mandatory). Howard Leight 7828 Waterville Road, San Diego, CA ph. 800/ fax 401/

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