QUESTION: Today it is very easy for individuals and companies to source their hearing protection outside of the UK. The global market has significantly increased the choice, availability and type of hearing protection available. However, how do you know that the hearing protection you are purchasing will meet all safety requirements in the UK and European countries?
Rob Shaddick, MIOA, MSc is an acoustic consultant with Soundguard Acoustics Ltd, former NHS Audiologist and Custom Hearing Protection manufacturer and supplier with Insta-Mold. Here he discusses how you can ensure that your hearing protection purchase meets European requirements.
ANSWER: The main consideration that the unwary individual or company purchasing department may come across is assuming that the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) and the SNR (Single Number Rating) is the same thing, they are not. Similarly products are often described as ‘ear protectors’ or ‘ear protection’ which is not the same as ‘hearing protectors’ or ‘hearing protection’ – subtle differences that the unwary customer may overlook.
The SNR [Single Number Rating] is used by the European Union and affiliated countries and defines the level of protection offered by a correctly fitted hearing protection device. The value is derived by conducting two tests at independent testing laboratories, using test frequencies which are slightly different than those used for the NRR rating. In addition to an overall rating, the SNR further rates protectors in terms of the HML value for particular noise environments in which they will be used – H for high-frequency noise environments, M for mid-frequency, and L for low-frequency.
The NRR [Noise Reduction Rating] is mainly used in the United States but is not compatible with the European Union. Although the hearing protection will be provided with a supporting chart showing mean attenuation values and standard deviations at each of the seven test frequencies as required by U.S Environmental Protection Agency, this NRR number is not recognised in the UK and Europe where an SNR number is required.
Having an SNR value will ensure that your hearing protection device is also meeting other safety standards for use in the UK and Europe, namely the requirement to meet EN352-1:2002 (for Ear-muffs) and EN352-2:2002 (for Ear-plugs). If the protection has met these standards and is marked with an SNR value then it should also be marked with an HML breakdown of the protection and an Assumed Protection Value (APV) for use when matching hearing protection to noise frequency data. The CE certification of conformance and will be provided along with this information which will be clearly stated on the box or with an enclosed leaflet.
The next time you make a purchase of hearing protection, muffs, earplugs or custom products in the UK and Europe then fully check these points to ensure that you are fully protected and that your purchasing decision has been appropriately tested for the rigorous European Union requirements.
- Check that the SNR value is stated on the packaging or leaflet
- Check that the HML levels are provided on the packaging or leaflet
- Check that a frequency break down of the Assumed Protection Value (APV) is provided
- Check that the protection meets the appropriate EN352 standard
- Check that the product is CE marked.
If you haven’t got all of these details then you are most likely to be purchasing an imported product that will not meet European safety requirements, you may be purchasing cheap or fake imports or even worse you may be about to purchase an untested product.