A loud workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours each day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A truck driver won’t require the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start harming your ears. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it just isn’t a number we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. That’s not a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about hearing protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But that isn’t the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will start to occur to your hearing if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour will be harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and could even cause immediate pain.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
Most workplaces will have recommendations as to what level of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s essential to have the correct protection.
Comfort is also an essential component to take into consideration. It turns out, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. This is because you’re not as likely to actually use your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
There Are Basically Three Options:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best choice for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people might appreciate the leave-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should take them out at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a significant factor. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative effect on your hearing over time. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best option.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.