A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even moderate noise levels if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours each day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a basic rule of thumb. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how dangerous it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
Eighty-five decibels is about how loud city traffic is when you’re sitting inside your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider hearing protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But that’s not the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will start to happen to your ears if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour will be damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and might even cause immediate pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of noise, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s incredibly important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically make suggestions about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to consider also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but most of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other individuals, 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).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a major factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your ears can suffer over the long run. So the most important decision you can make is to select hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.