Archive for December 28, 2017

Spotlight on the PELTOR Junior Earmuffs

I hope you all (assuming this blog has anything resembling a consistent readership) are having a great holiday season. The gift-giving may be behind us, but the spirit should live on. As we go back to the daily grind of our lives, we can’t forget those less fortunate than us, no matter how many distractions the world throws at us. The shapers of our society would like nothing more than for us to disregard the existence of the marginalized in our world. Extermination policies did not begin or end with the Third Reich; an undeclared war has been waged against undesirable populations for many centuries, and we see the casualties today in homelessness, economic inequality, racism, political corruption, addiction, and our broken healthcare system. Out of the many marginalized populations that take the brunt of this abuse, the autistic community is one of the less visible. You probably wouldn’t imagine the writer of this blog as autistic, but I am.

 

We’ve all seen the propaganda, mostly courtesy of pressure groups like Autism Speaks, portraying autism as a world-ending plague on mankind. Anyone living with an autistic loved one knows that this isn’t true, and that autism in its many manifestations is simply a difference that society doesn’t like. As autistic people start to speak up and advocate for themselves in the coming years, opposition from these hate groups will intensify.

 

Here at Enviro, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in the reviews for one of our products, which is next in our PELTOR spotlight series. The PELTOR Junior earmuffs are designed for the younger set: children, teens, and infants. They’re a basic passive hearing protection product with an adjustable headband, vibrant colors, and deliberate exclusion of small parts that could pose a choking hazard. 3M doesn’t make clear what exactly the intended application is; kids don’t usually work in high-noise environments, so it would seem they’re intended for children who want to accompany their family to the gun range or out hunting. Which is great! It gives parents or other family members an opportunity to share their hobbies with their kids, maybe introduce them to something they’ll come to love themselves. That’s awesome.

 

In the reviews, however, it looks like our customers have found some more creative uses for them. A recurring theme is that they’re used for kids on the autism spectrum. Autistic kids are often hypersensitive to loud noise, especially when it’s sudden and unexpected. Earmuffs are an excellent solution to that problem, and the PELTOR Juniors are affordable and convenient. I think 3M would do well to refine the product further and market it directly to the special needs community. For example, one reviewer wishes the earmuffs were collapsible and could more easily fit in her purse. That’s an easy fix.

 

Obviously, Christmas is over and the time is past for you to buy a set for an autistic child or teen in your life, but the awareness is what counts here. It’s important, even on a tiny platform like mine, to push back against the mainstream notions of what autism is, how it works, and what should be done about it. I don’t think 3M cares much about us; they’re a massive conglomerate with their own agendas and concerns. But they made a product that serves a very real need, and it’s in the best interest of everyone involved to explore that relationship further. As for you, take the time to hear what autistic people actually have to say about autism, and cherish the autistic people in your life for who they are, while you still can.

Find out more about autistic issues from an autistic perspective at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Spotlight on the WorkTunes Pro

The grand 3M PELTOR parade continues, this time with the WorkTunes Pro. This headset offers an uncanny blend of high-quality hearing protection and built-in AM/FM radio listening capability. If that sounds familiar to the PELTOR Alert from a few months ago, the difference is that this is a passive hearing device without level-dependent noise cancellation technology, and therefore much cheaper.

 

3M’s hook for this product is that listening to music or radio while you work can be a great motivator to get you “ ‘in the flow’ of your workday” (the bizarre quotation mark placement is theirs). And this is definitely an impressive device, with a 26 dB noise reduction rating and inner workings isolated in their own compartment to prevent sweat exposure (something I always assumed was true of these products and seems odd to emphasize here). But my initial concern with the Alert is that having one’s attentions divided between physically demanding work with dangerous equipment and auditory entertainment or news seems like a recipe for disaster, even with the level-dependent technology. So, for that article, I emphasized the Alert’s applicability to leisure or home activities that involve loud noise, such as sport shooting or mowing the lawn.

 

I was a bit confused, then, when I encountered promotional material for the WorkTunes Pro that emphasized its use in the workplace, when it doesn’t have the level-dependent technology that enabled communication with coworkers and awareness of the environment that the Alert does. Wouldn’t it be even more dangerous to use a passive hearing protection device in situations with that kind of noise level? I was assuming that such situations would also involve heavy equipment moving around, be it a forklift or a winch or a saw whatever other object in the space that the wearer should be aware of for their own safety. That’s not always necessarily true, though. There are definitely jobs in controlled, safe environments that have loud occupational noise in the vicinity (a generator, for example) and will still require hearing protection. In that context, it’s up to the manager to decide if personal listening devices will be allowed.

 

The WorkTunes Pro features a voice-guided menu system that eliminates the need for dials and buttons. Simply tell it what station you want, your preferred volume, etc. and it will do the adjusting for you. It also announces when it’s low on battery, and will turn off automatically after 4 hours of non-use to conserve the battery. This won’t affect the hearing protection, just the media player. It’s also available as a hard hat attachment that goes with any 3M hard hat, which would seem to hew closer to my concerns above. 3M’s website mentions manufacturing facilities and industrial sites as being good applications for this device; all I can say is check with your manager or, if you are the manager, give it a good amount of thought before you allow personal listening devices in your workplace. The luxury of listening to music or talk radio just isn’t worth an accident.

Spotlight on the LiteCom BRS

Today we’re continuing our 3M PELTOR spotlight series with a look at the LiteCom BRS two-way radio headset. These high-end headphones offer not only top-notch hearing protection, but also full set-to-set communication on multiple frequencies. 3M goes the extra mile when engineering these products, and here at Enviro we make sure to provide only the best, so you get the best.

 

The LiteCom’s noise reduction rating (NRR) of 25 decibels allows for peace in the storm, or the factory, or the loading deck, wherever you happen to be. The soft padding on the headband and deep earcups allow for an unusual level of comfort, making it easy to wear for prolonged periods. The star of the show here, however, is the two-way radio.

 

The built-in two-way UHF radio is a cable-free communication system that can connect your whole team together to optimize productivity and communication. The microphone is engineered to filter out sounds beside speech, so you don’t get any unwelcome noise in your ears. If you go without talking for more than two hours, the headset switches off automatically to conserve energy. When you start talking again, the channel reopens within milliseconds, so no one should miss any of your words.

 

The headset itself also communicates with you, and may even start to feel like part of the team. When initially turned on, the unit notifies you of its battery status and guides you through a voice-activated menu. The 8 BRS channels and 38 CTCSS subchannels are compliant with the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate. When it switches off after two hours of inactivity as mentioned above, it tells you it’s doing so and you will hear a ten-second sequence of short tones.

 

The microphone sensitivity can be adjusted to your needs, though the manual informs that a lower level makes transmission easier. The only situation that would require a high setting would be in environments so noisy that it could simply drown your voice out. Otherwise, the mic should be fine at the default level. There’s also a feature humorously named “squelch,” which reduces the background hiss common to most communication systems. The squelch level can be adjusted similarly to the sensitivity. Again, this depends on your needs, in this case how far apart the units will be. A lower squelch level can permit transmission across longer distances.

 

The channel system is very sophisticated, with 8 primary channels that can be organized based on your needs; this team doing this job uses channel 1, another team uses 2, and so on. The 38 subchannels are more complicated. CTCSS stands for “continuous tone-coded squelch system,” and these frequencies can detect inaudible tones in human speech that determine whether the channel is open or closed. It’s all arcane and mysterious from where I’m sitting and I’m not going to pretend to know how it works, but it allows multiple conversations to be happening on the same frequency without audibly interfering with each other. Crazy, right?

 

The PELTOR LiteCom BRS headset is a great choice for employers trying to put together a hearing protection program for a high-noise environment.

Spotlight on the TEP-100

We’ve discussed at length 3M’s sophisticated level-dependent hearing protection technology, but this is a good place for a quick recap. Passive hearing protection, like the Optime 105 from our last post, blocks out most to all sound without discerning between one sound and another. Active protection (fancy protection, smart protection, expensive protection, call it what you will) incorporates an ambient microphone and sensory technology into its design that actually measures the noise level coming in, determines if it is dangerous based on a preprogrammed threshold, and either allows the sound to go through or cuts off the mic feed based on the result. All that happens in a fraction of a second. Today’s spotlighted product is also an active protection item, but instead of a headset like you usually see, the TEP-100 takes the form of a pair of removable earplugs.

 

At first glance, outfitting earplugs with this kind of technology seems like a bad idea. Plugs are notoriously prone to falling out, and adding a chunky piece of tech to the end would seem to make the problem worse. Fear not. Each plug is only 0.13 oz (about 3.7 grams), so if they’re being worn properly they should be secure in the ear. They’re also water-resistant, making them ideal for application in challenging environments.

 

The TEP-100 is designed to provide excellent hearing protection when things get loud and equally excellent ability to hear in quiet situations. In promotional materials, 3M particularly focuses on the tactical applications for law enforcement and soldiers. The online brochure has pictures of a line of armed men in silhouette, a man speaking into a walkie-talkie in night-vision green, a helmeted trainee pointing a gun around a corner. Tactical would seem to be the main context they want these to be used in. There’s a wrinkle to this, however. Amazon user E. B.’s review caught my eye while I was researching, and seems to indicate that 3M has somewhat oversold the TEP-100’s capabilities. It doesn’t mean they’re useless, just that you can’t always take a company’s information at face value. E. B. describes the plugs as being highly susceptible to wind noise (which the brochure says the mic port on the side is specifically meant to minimize) and that, because the units are identical, one of the mics is always facing backwards. He describes this creating a phenomenon of muffling in the left ear.

E. B. claims to be an avid shooter (“several hundred to several thousand rounds per month”), hunter, and Iraq veteran who has led dozens of combat patrols. I’m inclined to believe him based on the detail with which he fills his review (and others on his profile). A man with such credentials knows exactly what a tactical earplug needs. The sound quality must be pristine, and the sensors need to be sophisticated enough to indicate which direction the sound is coming from. The left-ear muffling in particular severely curtails perception of depth and direction. These flaws, he points out, make the TEP-100 “unusable for most types of serious hunting,” and would be “downright dangerous” on the battlefield. Personally I’m inclined to trust the vet, and if I were working at 3M I’d offer this guy a consulting job and rebrand the TEP-100 in a way that highlights the situations where it shines most: the shooting range.

 

Most people who work in a field that would require tactical ear protection probably have some degree of enthusiasm for guns and shooting, and may frequent a range for fun. Despite his harsh criticism, E. B. absolutely loves how these earplugs work when he’s at the range with friends. Everyone shoots in one direction (unless there’s an accident, God forbid) and the level of sonic detail that’s required in the woods or at war isn’t necessary there. You only need to protect your ears from shot blasts, but you also need the situational awareness that active protection can provide. The TEP-100 fills that role perfectly.