A noisy workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively impacted by even modest levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for several hours each day. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take some time to consider it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t need 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 damaging your ears. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how dangerous it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a big deal after eight hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are extremely important when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will begin to happen to your hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be injured when exposed to this noise level for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing happens after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this level of noise for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will cause instant harm and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of noise, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what degree of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s important to have the right protection.
But there’s another factor to consider as well: comfort. As it happens, comfort is extremely important to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but most of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are the best choice for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better alternative (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is important because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. So the most crucial decision you can make is to select hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your circumstance.