Many employees fail to insert hearing protection appropriately, which results in ineffective hearing protection and permanent hearing loss. Hearing conservation programs have been pushing for a system that verifies the employee has appropriate ear protection.
OSHA, NIOSH, and the DOD emphasize the importance of fit testing as a best practice to protect an employee’s hearing. While OSHA doesn’t necessarily require fit testing for a hearing protection device, both the DOD and NIOSH consider it a gold standard.
In parallel, ANSI/ASA has recently issued a standard (ANSI S12.71-2018) that depicts exactly how manufacturers should validate their fit test system through specific laboratory-based procedures. These validation studies are geared to ensure that a fit test system is accurate and repeatable.
Fit testing is designed to be a quantitative technique to verify that a hearing protector device is working properly. It is used to measure the effectiveness of a headset or attenuating earplugs while also providing an individuals’ Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR) by measuring the amount of noise reduction that a hearing protector provides. This measure identifies those at risk for hearing loss as a result of a poor fit of the earplug and can ultimately prevent future degradation in hearing.
There are two types of fit tests: