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A Guide to Earplugs and Defenders

What is an ear defender?

Ear defenders or acoustic earmuffs are designed to cover a person's ears for protection against noise. A headband fits over the top of the head and a pad on each side covers the ears. The ear cups are lined with sound-deadening material for hearing protection or isolation from ambient noise on construction sites and other noisy work environments. Ear defenders thus protect the wearer from noise which would otherwise be uncomfortable or even hazardous to long-term hearing.

When should hearing protection be used?

Ear defenders should be worn by employees when extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using noise control or as a short-term measure while other methods of controlling noise are being developed. You should not use ear defenders as an alternative to controlling noise by technical and organisational means.

Things to note...

Ear protection 'dos' and 'don'ts'


  • ear defendersEnsure sufficient ear protection – at least below 85 dB at the ear.
  • Target ear defenders to noisier tasks in a working day.
  • Consider suitability, comfort and hygeine.
  • Think about other personal protective equipment being worn – hard hats, goggles, dust masks.
  • Provide a range of ear defenders so that employees can choose which ones suit them best.


  • provide ear defenders which cut out too much noise – this can cause isolation (which can make workers unaware of certain environment contingencies that they need to be aware of) or a reluctance to wear them.
  • Force workers to wear defenders when it is not a legal requirement.
  • Apply a generalist rule which may not be appropriate for some circumstances.

The Health and Safety Executive provides information and guidance on health and safety in the workplace including specific information on ear protection.