The rise of commercial noise reduction technology means osha approved hearing protection devices are more popular than ever. In some jobs, having more access to noise cancellation is a huge benefit.
but where do you start with osha approved bluetooth headphones and earphones? well, that’s what I’ll discuss in this article.
Reading: Earbuds headphone for osha controlled work environments
I’ll go over my top picks for osha hearing aids and hearing aids, along with important factors to consider. First though, let’s see what osha means.
what does osha compliance mean for headphones?
OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency that is part of the US Department of Labor. As its name indicates, it manages the regulations on health and safety at work.
publishes noise level standards in the workplace that dictate safe exposure levels and conservation programs. The rules state that employers must have a hearing conservation program if noise levels are 85 db or higher during an 8-hour shift. hearing damage can occur at a noise level of 85 db or higher after a period of exposure.
Furthermore, it states that for every 5db increase in noise, a worker’s exposure time is halved. therefore, for 90 db, it can only be exposed for 4 hours.
here is a simple graph detailing noise levels and exposure period.
osha recommends different options to reduce or work with noise. these include hearing protection devices. One way to test the effectiveness of hearing protection devices is with nrr.
what is the noise reduction index?
nrr is the noise reduction rating, a system developed by the environmental protection agency (epa). nrr, unsurprisingly, recommends a device’s ability to reduce noise exposure.
an nrr number comes from testing to american national standards under osha guidance. Therefore, headphones are not directly approved by OSHA, but to receive an nrr number, they are tested using their rules.
calculating an nrr number is complex due to the factors involved. it is given in decibels, but it is not a direct reduction. For example, if you’re exposed to 90 db noise using headphones with a 30 db nrr, it doesn’t go down to 60 db.
Instead, it takes the nrr number of the device, subtracts 7, and divides it in half. OSHA gives alternative methods for calculating this figure. osha approved hearing aids do not have a minimum nrr rating as it is relative to the original noise level.
To comply with OSHA, hearing protection must reduce exposure levels below 85 db. If this is not possible, the worker should be exposed for less time during their working day.
but this all gets a bit tricky when you’re just trying to find an osha headset for work. instead, work on the basis that the higher the nrr, the more the noise will be reduced. okay, this is a very simple way to calculate it, but it’s often enough.
Alternatively, use an online nrr calculator.
top 5 osha approved headphones
Now that we have a better understanding of the regulations, we can look at some of the best osha approved headphones and earphones. the ones i review here are music listening devices that include an nrr rating, rather than simple hearing protection devices.
1. top choice: 3m worktunes hearing protector
3m is a leading provider of ppe (personal protective equipment) for the workplace, so it’s no surprise that they’ve launched osha approved hearing aids. Unlike other entries on this list, these are hearing protection devices with bluetooth connectivity rather than noise canceling headphones.
That said, the nrr is only 24db, which puts them on the low end. however, they make up for this by being extremely comfortable, making them suitable for all-day wear.
The battery lasts up to 30 hours on a single charge, although it ends up being less with actual use. still, you should use them for a few days before you need to recharge them. Better yet, you can replace the battery, which means they can be used for longer.
something they lack is good buttons. they are quite small, which means that they are difficult to use with gloves. but overall this is a minor issue, although the sound quality is not. users say it’s not great, which is a common problem with this type of headset.
2. top budget pick: isotunes xtra bluetooth headphones
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these earplugs have an nrr of 27 db and a battery life of 8 hours. at $50, they may not seem like a budget option. but I wouldn’t recommend going below this price for something like osha approved headphones.
Its noise reduction rating is higher than previous on-ear headphones due to memory foam ear cushions. these can block out noise more easily and are heat activated, meaning they expand in your ears. but if the headphones are not comfortable for you, stick with the isotunes pro headphones.
The headphones are IP45 rated, which means they are resistant to water and dust. they use bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, which is a bit older than previous headphones. however, you still get low latency regardless.
if you feel like upgrading, opt for the isotunes pro 2.0 earplugs. they’re nearly identical, but you get a 10-hour battery life and slightly better sound quality.
Most users criticize the connectivity of these headphones. apparently, they disconnect but reconnect fairly quickly. however, it is a price you often pay for cheap bluetooth headsets, so only avoid buying better quality devices.
3. isotunes pro bluetooth earmuff headphones
isotunes pro earphones were close to being my top choice because they are earmuffs with headphone technology. while they don’t have the highest nrr on this list, they make up for it in other ways. they just lost due to their slightly lower nrr.
the nrr is 23 db, which is average. but the ear cups are very padded and amazing at dampening the sound. as such, they are suitable for all-day wear.
In addition, they have a volume limiter set at 85 db to protect your hearing. after all, it would be silly to block out noise and then go deaf listening to music.
They use bluetooth 4.2 connectivity and have a 14-hour battery. You’ll find large buttons on the side, making them easy to use when you’re working. also, they have little resistance to water, which means that they will not be damaged by light rain.
The only real downside to isotunes pro is its sound quality, which users say is a bit lacking. but you can’t expect much more for the price, since they are in the middle range of standard headphones.
4. wulfpowerpro bluetooth radio headset
These headphones let you listen to music from your phone or memory card, or listen to the radio. while these may be unnecessary extras, they mean you don’t have to take your phone with you.
the nrr is 29db, which is the highest so far on this list. like the isotunes pro above, they are over-the-ear headphones, and I think they are more comfortable for long-term wear. but these have less cushioning in the head strap, so they’re not as comfortable overall.
the headphones have a small lcd screen to show battery life, radio station and connection status. it’s a nice feature, but it makes them feel a bit more delicate in work situations. however, you still get physical buttons to control volume and power.
unlike the isotunes pro, users praise the sound quality, despite the price. but users criticize the volume and weight. to more than 5 oz. heavier, this pair could get uncomfortable after a while.
5. elgin ruckus earplug headphones
These osha compliant headphones from ruckus have an nrr of 25 db. While this is lower than the Isotunes Xtra, they have a longer battery life and more up-to-date Bluetooth. the battery lasts 14 hours, which is quite impressive for headphones. They use Bluetooth 5.0, giving you a connection range of 50 feet. and the lowest possible latency.
The earphones are made of silicone, possibly one of the most comfortable and durable materials for ear tips. as such, you should be able to wear them for hours without a problem. Like other osha headphones, they have a neck strap so you don’t lose them.
They are IP65 rated, which means they have the highest possible dust resistance rating. water resistance is also quite good. if you want to stick with a wired version of these elgin ruckus headphones with the same features, check out these.
Although users praise the sound, many criticize the size of the headset. Unlike the Isotunes Xtra, these do not come with different sized ear tips. however, any standard 4-5mm earphone will fit.
what to look for in osha approved hearing aids and bluetooth headsets
Along with nrr, there are some important factors to consider when selecting hearing aids and hearing aids. this is what I recommend you look for when choosing the right pair for you.
headphones or headphones?
so, headphones or earphones? that is perhaps the most important question. the biggest influence is comfort level, although this is slightly subjective. for all-day wear, I recommend over-the-ear headphones.
Earbuds can become uncomfortable when placed in the ear for long periods of time. ear tips made of memory foam or silicone are more comfortable, as long as they are sized appropriately.
See also: 15 Headphone and Earbud Storage Solutions That Really Work
but you need to balance this with your nrr numbers. In-ear headphones generally have higher noise reduction ratings because they fit better in your ears. As shown above, the nrr of the headphone can be up to 6db higher than that of the headphone.
if you’re looking for a higher nrr level, don’t count out earplugs. They are cheaper and can have an NRR rating higher than 30. I have written a separate article on my top 5 best earplugs. take a look here.
But, a high-quality pair of headphones can be equal to a mid-range pair of earbuds. in practical terms, a difference of a few decibels is not much. Using the nrr calculator linked above, we get these results:
- isotunes pro headphones (23db nrr, 100dba sound level): 92db
- isotunes xtra bluetooth headphones (27db nrr, 100dba sound level): 90db
as you can see it only makes a 2db difference. As such, I recommend using comfort as the primary factor when choosing between the 2 styles.
wireless headphones and earphones have built-in batteries, although some allow you to change them. regardless, look for a battery life of 8 hours as an absolute minimum.
as stated in osha guidelines, an 8-hour workday is the benchmark when calculating noise standards. therefore, you’ll want your OSHA-approved hearing aids to last at least a full day of work before running out of battery.
however, anything above this is just a bonus.
The headphones I’ve reviewed above are generally bluetooth 4.2 or 5. But what does this mean?
In short, it all comes down to how recent bluetooth technology is. it dictates things like connection quality, distance, and latency. latency is the speed at which data passes between devices.
then low latency means better response times. this includes selecting a song and playing it or pressing a button on your headset and having your device respond.
but, bluetooth 4.2 is generally fine. 5.0 generation is obviously more up-to-date and provided some major upgrades like lossless communication and faster speeds.
Budget is always a necessary consideration when choosing audio equipment and personal protective equipment. as such, it is doubly important here. I mentioned earlier that you wouldn’t spend less than $50 when buying noise canceling headphones, so use that at a minimum.
none on this list are over $100, although these products do exist. but, once you get past this price, you pay for better battery life and (sometimes) better audio quality.
for example, the isotunes true wireless earphones are more than twice the price of the isotunes xtra I reviewed above, but have a lower nrr number. therefore, in practical security terms, you don’t really gain much.
anything other than noise reduction technology and bluetooth connectivity is an added feature. some are more useful than others, so here are the ones to keep in mind:
Even though manufacturers are phasing out wired headphone connections, it’s still useful. many wireless earphones come with this feature, while earphones don’t.
Having a radio can be great, but it’s not absolutely necessary. smartphones offer digital radio. but the advantage of your hearing aids having an fm receiver is that you can remove your phone from the equation entirely.
Ideally, headphones should have a neckband, so you don’t lose them. while you may not need one with regular headsets, it’s a great benefit in the workplace.
Final Thoughts on OSHA Approved Headphones
I hope this article has given you some guidance on how to choose osha headsets for the workplace.
my first choice is the 3m worktunes hearing protector because it is comfortable and practical. if you prefer in-ear headphones, opt for the isotunes xtra headphones with bluetooth.
do you have experience choosing osha hearing aids? let me know about your trip in the comments below.
See also: Headphone Impedance And Sensitivity Explained | The Master Switch