Music to your ear(plug)s

Music to your ear(plug)s

The first earplug patent dates back to 1864 – a time when most people believed that hearing loss could be prevented by developing a tolerance for loud noises. By the 1940s, earplugs made from tin, brass, wood, beeswax, and cotton wool were used. You don’t have to brass up your eardrums anymore, however, thanks to a cost-effective, recyclable, safe, and hygienic offering from PluXone.

In 2018, PluxOne – the first single material corded earplug – was launched. Developed by Nico Smit, an engineer with more than 20 years of experience in developing and producing medical devices, the design resulted in an economically recyclable earplug.

As a product development engineer in a plant where hearing protection was mandatory, Smit identified several shortcomings in the available earplugs at that time. We spoke to him to find out more.

What sets PluXone apart from other earplugs?

The patented design of PluxOne earplugs enables the manufacture of a high quality and high specification product at a significantly lower cost than competitors. The earplugs are manufactured locally in a fully automated process. All steps from manufacturing to packaging are done hygienically, without human contact and the related risk of biological contamination.

The PluxOne earplug’s safety cord protects users from harm should the cord get caught in moving machinery. This means the use of one corded PluxOne set can, in many instances, replace the use of several uncorded earplug sets per day.

The company is the only earplug manufacturer that will recycle all of its own used and returned earplugs into durable goods. Most other competing products end up on dump sites.

How important is it for companies to select the correct earplugs?

Company risk and cost profiles are influenced by earplug selection. Therefore, it can have a significant impact on company finances.

It is also critical to select the correct earplug in terms of several other aspects. Insufficient damping and incorrect fitment prevalent amongst users may both lead to permanent hearing damage. On the other hand, if excessive damping is used, the user may be exposed to additional risks (if, for example, warning sounds of moving equipment are damped too much). Either case could lead to severe personal injury and/or large costs to companies.

Another important risk factor is hygiene control. Roll-down foam earplugs and the use of earplugs without holders in dirty/dusty environments can lead to ear canal irritations, causing a drop in wearer performance or resulting in infections and related costs.

Nowadays, it is not good enough to only protect the user, you have to protect the environment as well. This has become an important factor in selecting the correct hearing protection. If no earplugs are recycled, an estimated 22 billion individual plugs will end up in our dump sites, waterways, and soils over the course of 2023 alone. Selecting a recyclable earplug will help address this problem and enhance the company’s Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) rating.

What should companies consider before purchasing earplugs?

Determining the correct Single Number Rating (SNR – a specification used to determine protection levels given by all hearing protection) value is crucial, but be careful of overprotection. You should always shop for the best value for money – get rid of the “nobody gets fired for buying IBM” mentality.

Make sure you know the safe usage period according to company policy. For some food processors, this is eight hours, while for some industrial users it can be more than four weeks, provided earplugs are regularly cleaned.

The type of earplug for a specific application is also important to consider: decide on corded versus uncorded. Uncorded earplugs are normally used where the cord poses a safety risk (such as wearing them close to moving machinery), or where several replacements per day are required due to contamination risk.

PluxOne earplug sets have a safety cord and, as such, can be safely used around moving equipment. The main advantage of corded earplugs is that they generally have a higher usable life; they do not get lost as easily as loose earplugs (which may even fall into machines/processing equipment) and can be worn around the neck when not in use, resulting in a lower cost per user.

Roll-down foam earplugs are prone to incorrect insertion, requiring regular verification and training. If this is difficult, or too expensive, rather avoid foam earplugs and use flanged earplugs if the SNR allows.

For very dirty environments, where users have no access to lockers to store earplugs during breaks, consider the use of easy-to-clean earplugs with holders.

Make sure earplugs are soft and comfortable, and use silicone-free earplugs for the motor industry. Device-borne pathogens became an increased source of concern during the Covid-19 pandemic; where possible, use earplugs that are manufactured and packed without human contact. Some company policies may even require metal detectable earplugs.

Finally, sustainability is crucial: use recyclable earplugs and limit unnecessary replacements. Return all used earplugs to the manufacturer or appointed recyclers.

What should companies keep in mind after making a purchase?

Make sure users are well trained in utilising the earplugs according to instructions and company policy. Conduct regular checks on the level of wearing conformance, as well as regular hearing tests on users as per company policy. Remember to check whether recycling programmes are in place.

Financial pressure on companies will continue to force them to search for ways or products to reduce costs. For personal protective equipment (PPE) distributors, this normally means cutting profit margins on existing products, switching to similar PPE from a lower cost/quality supplier, or moving to innovative products that can improve cost, quality, and features.

We expect that larger companies will increase their efforts on sustainability and filter policy down to specify the recyclability of numerous single-use or short-term-use products, such as earplugs.

PluxOne focuses on delivering reusable, fully recyclable earplugs that are safer to use, cost less than any other corded earplug set, are extremely comfortable, and offer users by far the best value for money.

Published by

SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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