A noisy workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, 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 numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic will 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. We aren’t really used to considering sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a number we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is about how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or more 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): Damage will begin to occur to your ears if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 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): Any exposure can cause harm to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and might even cause instant pain.
You’ll want the hearing protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, especially if you’re exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
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 your world will become (temporarily).
It’s incredibly important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to consider also: comfort. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your ears safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should take them out 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 result in damage. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to take them off for short periods and that can have a negative effect on your hearing over time. So the most important decision you can make is to choose 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 happy and healthy.