A noisy workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can begin to weaken your hearing health. 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 it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t require the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to damage 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 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. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But that isn’t the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be injured when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 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): 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 level of noise will lead to immediate harm and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
The majority of workplaces will have recommendations as to what degree of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
Comfort is also an important 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.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
Each type of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people may appreciate the put-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should remove them at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. 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 solution.
You’re ears will stay healthier and happier if you find the right level of hearing protection for your situation.