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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 51  |  Page : 163--175

Development and validation of a field microphone-in-real-ear approach for measuring hearing protector attenuation

1 3M Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division, E.A.RCAL Laboratory, 7911 Zionsville Road, Indianapolis, IN 46268-1657, Canada
2 École de Technologie Supérieure, Department of Mechanical Engineering, 1100 Notre-Dame West, Montreal, H3C 1K3, Canada

Correspondence Address:
E H Berger
3M Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division, E.A.RCAL Laboratory, 7911 Zionsville Road, Indianapolis, IN 46268-1657, USA

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.77214

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Numerous studies have shown that the reliability of using laboratory measurements to predict individual or even group hearing protector attenuation for occupationally exposed workers is quite poor. This makes it difficult to properly assign hearing protectors when one wishes to closely match attenuation to actual exposure. An alternative is the use of field-measurement methods, a number of which have been proposed and are beginning to be implemented. We examine one of those methods, namely the field microphone-in-real-ear (F-MIRE) approach in which a dual-element microphone probe is used to measure noise reduction by quickly sampling the difference in noise levels outside and under an earplug, with appropriate adjustments to predict real-ear attenuation at threshold (REAT). We report on experiments that validate the ability of one commercially available F-MIRE device to predict the REAT of an earplug fitted identically for two tests. Results are reported on a representative roll-down foam earplug, stemmed-style pod plug, and pre-molded earplug, demonstrating that the 95% confidence level of the Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR) as a function of the number of fits varies from ±4.4 dB to ±6.3 dB, depending on the plug type, which can be reduced to ±3.1 dB to ±4.5 dB with a single repeat measurement. The added measurement improves precision substantially. However, the largest portion of the error is due to the user's fitting variability and not the uncertainty of the measurement system. Further we evaluated the inherent uncertainty of F-MIRE vs. the putative "gold standard" REAT procedures finding, that F-MIRE measurement uncertainty is less than one-half that of REAT at most test frequencies. An American National Standards Institute (ANSI) working group (S12/WG11) is currently involved in developing methods similar to those in this paper so that procedures for evaluating and reporting uncertainty on all types of field attenuation measurement systems can be standardized. We conclude that the hearing conservationist now has available a portable, convenient, quick, and easy-to-use system that can improve training and motivation of employees, assign hearing protection devices based on noise exposures, and address other management and compliance issues.


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