Among employees who are required to wear hearing protection, they wear hearing PPE an average of 80 percent of their work day, with ear plugs being the most commonly used hearing protection product, according to a 2017 PPE hearing study. 

The study, by Clear Seas Research, was conducted to understand the PPE hearing market by identifying brand usage, exploring important attributes of brand selection for PPE and identifying purchase process trends. 

Types of hearing protection

The study found that 88 percent of those surveyed who regularly use hearing protection use ear plugs; 63 percent use earmuffs/headphones; 29 percent custom-molded ear plugs; and 26 percent headband hearing protectors. 

The most common hearing hazards workers are exposed to include: 

  • general equipment - 76 percent
  • scaling/grinding - 44 percent
  • prolonged/loud sound - 42 percent
  • ventilation equipment - 41 percent
  • pneumatic pumps - 38 percent
  • needle/nail gun - 36 percent
  • high-pressure steam/water - 34 percent
  • abrasive blasting - 23 percent

Why isn’t PPE being used?

Typical hearing hazards are between 90-120 decibels, with users most often citing “not required” as the leading reason not to use PPE. However, an alarming 34 percent of users say they simple “forgot to” as a reason for not using PPE. Another 33 percent cite “convenience” as the reason for not using hearing PPE, and 32 percent say comfort and fit are factors in not using proper PPE. Other issues include not being able to communicate with others while wearing hearing PPE (28 percent) and not being able to hear alerts or warnings (16 percent).

Sources of PPE information

Hearing PPE users say their top sources of information include manufacturer literature (47 percent) or websites (48 percent), peer recommendations (47 percent) and trade magazines (43 percent).  


The leading factors influencing purchase are customer service, one-stop shopping and assistance with OSHA compliance. Hearing PPE is purchased about evenly between online and in-store channels, with almost half of in-store purchases made at a retailer. 

Top purchase factors include comfort/fit, level of protection, quality, ease of use and the noise reduction rating. Sixty-six percent of purchasers/users say comfort/fit is extremely important. This aligns with the fact that comfort/fit is one of the top reasons workers are not wearing hearing protection. 

Ear plugs are commonly utilized in both construction and general manufacturing, but construction workers are more likely to also utilize other forms of ear protection. 


OSHA’s hearing standards are among the most well-known, with 85 percent of workers saying the hearing conservation standards are very or extremely helpful to their job, and 57 percent say they have a solid understand of the standards.

Of the survey respondents, 43 percent work in the building and construction industry, with 36 percent saying their job function is in general management. Eighty-six percent of the respondents are PPE users, and the majority of them are between 30-59 years of age, with 20 percent age 60 or older. 

For more information on Clear Seas Research designed for actionable results, recommendations, and superior decision-making, contact Tracy Bristow at 919.519.7161;; or Beth Surowiec at 248.786.1519;