European standards for hearing protection

Directive 2003/10/EC (supersedes Directive 86/188/EEC)

What actions should be taken to comply with the Directive?

  • Assess noise levels to determine if they exceed the new action levels
  • Endeavour to reduce hazardous noise exposures at their source by means of engineering or administrative controls
  • If noise cannot be reduced to safe levels, use hearing protectors (earplugs or earmuffs) to protect workers exposed to noise

Action levels and exposure limits

Protective measures are required at these exposure levels.

SNR (Single Number Rating)

This rating number is used by the European Union and affiliated countries.
Tests are conducted at independent testing laboratories, using test frequencies which are slightly different than those used for the NRR rating.
In addition to an overall rating, the SNR further rates protectors in terms of the particular noise environments in which they will be used:

  • H for high frequency noise environments
  • M for mid frequency
  • L for low frequency

Note that the HML designation does not refer to noise level, rather the spectrum of the noise. For example, a protector might be designated with SNR 26, H = 32, M = 23, L =14. The estimated attenuation changes according to the noise spectrum of the environment in which the protector is to be worn.



EN 352-2Earplugs


EN 352-1Earmuffs
EN 352-3Helmet-mounted earmuffs
EN 352-4Level dependent earmuffs
EN 352-8Earmuffs with radio

Protective measures Daily 8 hour exposure Peak exposure
Lower exposure action level 80 dBA 135 dBC
Variety of hearing protectors must be made available to noise exposed workers (voluntary usage)
Audiometric screening must be made available to workers whose exposure indicates a risk to health
Training must be provided in the risks of noise, correct use of hearing protectors, detection of hearing damage, provisions of health surveillance and safe working practices to minimise noise exposure
Upper exposure action level 85 dBA 137 dBC
Variety of hearing protectors must be made available to noise exposed workers, and usage enforced
Audiometric evaluation by a doctor must be made available to exposed workers
Warning signs must be posted in noisy areas
Exposure limit value 87 dBA 140 dBC
Maximum allowable noise level in the ear with all protective measures in place
Protected noise exposures under hearing protection may not exceed this level
Include the attenuation provided by hearing protectors when estimating this value