5 Ways Foam Ear Plugs Are Letting You Down


It’s time to ditch the foam ear plugs. First there was a cotton ball and petroleum jelly. Then came foam ear plugs. They’ve reached their technological apex. You should expect more from your safety equipment. Foam ear plugs are letting you down in at least five ways.

1. Productivity Killers Expose You to High Noise

Foam ear plugs do protect your hearing from high noise—when they’re in your ears. The problem is that when you need to communicate with a coworker, use a radio or make a phone call, you have to remove the plugs. Every time you have to stop work to remove the plugs, you expose your hearing to the high-noise environment and productivity suffers.

2. Not Suited for Long-term, Repetitive Use

No two ear canals are alike. Some people find foam ear plugs uncomfortable no matter how custom the fit. Sometimes you may need two different styles or brands because your ear canals differ in shape and size. Disposable ear plugs are a crapshoot when it comes to fit, which may result in ineffective hearing protection.

Foam ear plugs also have a tendency to wiggle loose. That means stopping work again to refit them.

Then there’s the matter of keeping them clean. Foam ear plugs are frequently soiled after a long day on the jobsite. They need to be cleaned after each use. Otherwise, health issues may arise (see #4).

3. Your Situational Awareness is Compromised

Foam ear plugs do not have listen-through technology. While they block machinery noise, they also block other noise in your surrounding environment, including traffic, alarms and warning shouts.

Unfortunately, when workers feel threatened by their inability to maintain sharp situational awareness, they’ll choose to work without hearing protection. In their minds, it is—understandably—the lesser of two evils.

4. Ear Health is at Risk

Back to the need to keep foam ear plugs clean. Bacteria love foam. If they aren’t clean before you use them, then you risk an ear infection.

Some foam ear plugs do such a fine job of sealing up your ear canal that wax cannot properly drain. Impacted earwax can result in ear infections or tinnitus.

5. There’s a Better Option than Foam Ear Plugs

Foam ear plugs are adequate for one-time uses of a short duration when there is no other protection available in a high-noise environment. You have to protect your hearing. Once your ear’s hair cells die, they don’t grow back.

But technology has advanced far beyond foam. Today’s wireless headsets provide hearing protection as well as full-duplex, hands-free communication with other workers wearing headsets, using a two-way radio, or calling on a cell phone. Team communication solutions from Sonetics also provide stereo listen-through technology so you don’t have to compromise situational awareness to protect your hearing.

You have to provide hearing protection to keep your workers safe. Why not boost that protection with wireless communications technology that also increases productivity, improves job satisfaction, and sharpens situational awareness?