Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Range PPE

I’m sure the majority of our regular readers are aware of the importance of range safety. Most people know this means following range instructions from the range safety officer and/or match director, keeping your muzzle down range, and other basic safe gun handling, but there’s more to it than that. Range safety also includes personal protective equipment (or PPE) which includes dressing properly for the range.

I’d like to think everyone knows about the importance of eye and ear protection, but experience as an instructor and Range Safety Officer has taught me better.

Eye Protection
While many modern plastic prescription lenses have similar attributes to safety glasses, they are not the same thing. For one, regular eyeglasses do not generally have side shields. There are too many stories of people getting eye damage from a piece of bullet jacket, an empty casing, or a ricochet hitting them from the side.

Prescription safety glasses are available as well as regular safety glasses that will fit over your everyday glasses. Yes, they might not be as comfortable, but I’m willing to lay odds that they’re more comfortable than an eye patch.

Ear Protection
The unit of measurement for sound is the decibel. The decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that a change from 10 to 20 decibels is not double, but ten times the volume. Any sound in excess of 140 decibels, without hearing protection, can cause instant hearing damage. A .22 rimfire pistol generally exceeds 150 decibels at the muzzle, and volume goes up from there.

Another aspect of hearing damage from sounds is duration. Exposure to a lower volume sound for a longer period of time can be just as damaging to our hearing as exposure to a loud sound for a shorter time.

Both the National Institute of Health and Safety (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have more information on both hearing loss and hearing protection.

Decibel chart with specific emphasis on firearms

More generalized chart of common noise levels

Hearing protection is listed with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) value. For hearing protection to be good while shooting, it should have a NRR in the 20s at least.

Keep in mind, the actual decibel reduction is not what‘s listed on the package. To determine this value, take the NRR number (as decibels), subtract seven, and then divide by two. As shown in this 3M Hearing Protection Guide (PDF warning). So a product with an NRR rating of 27 would reduce volume by 10 decibels.

Some people like to double up their hearing protection, wearing plugs and muffs, for example. However, the two ratings aren’t added together; five decibels of protection are added to whichever element has the higher NRR value.

Proper Clothing
The general recommendation is to wear a long sleeved, high collar shirt, long pants, closed toed shoes, and a hat, and avoid low cut tops. All of this it to keep ejected brass cartridges off our skin. Brass gets hot when fired; in fact, one of the main benefits of the metallic cartridge case is that it takes a significant amount of heat with it when it leaves the gun. I don’t think any of us want that heat transferred to our skin, and anyone who’s ever gotten a piece of brass down their shirt knows just how uncomfortable this can be. As I was told during firefighter training more than once “people cook just like chicken.” I’d say more like pork, but whatever.

There are many good reasons to wear proper protective equipment while shooting. It won’t protect us completely, but it can go a long way to making our experience safer and more enjoyable.

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