A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can begin to weaken the health of your hearing. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic will require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a general rule of thumb. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it’s just not a figure we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s approximately 85 decibels. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider 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): Anything over four hours is considered damaging to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour will be damaging to your ears.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing takes place after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and might even cause immediate pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of sound, use hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
It’s very important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will typically make suggestions about what level will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential component to take into consideration. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your hearing safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of protection, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Consistent Degree of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a major factor. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative impact on your hearing over time. So the most crucial decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.