A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively affected by even moderate levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours each day. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even know 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 need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a general rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it’s just not a number we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s approximately 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very significant when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you should probably consider using ear protection. But there are a few other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything over four hours will be damaging to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered damaging to your ears.
- 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 damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant damage and most likely pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, utilize hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will be (temporarily).
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what level of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
But there’s another factor to think about as well: comfort. It’s really essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your ears safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
There Are Basically Three Options:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of protection, but most of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. Other people might value the leave-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (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 result in damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best choice.
You’re ears will remain healthier and happier if you choose the correct degree of hearing protection for your situation.