A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to undermine the health of your hearing. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
Most of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. 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.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. We’re not really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very important when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder 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 start to occur to your ears if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour is considered harmful to your ears.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes will be harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this noise level for any length of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to instant harm and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, especially if you’re exposed to those sounds for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what degree of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s essential to have the right protection.
Comfort is also an essential factor to think about. As it happens, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your ears healthy. This is because you’re not as likely to actually use your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
What Are my 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 benefits and drawbacks, but most of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better option (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
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a major factor. If you take your earmuffs off 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 degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.