Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your concentration. The health of your hearing can be negatively affected by even moderate noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours each day. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But when you take a moment to consider it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t need the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. We aren’t really used to thinking about 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 approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re sitting inside your car. That’s not a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you should probably consider using ear protection. 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 damaging to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour will be harmful to your hearing.
- 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 noise level for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant damage and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of sound, utilize hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
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 outside sound will be (temporarily).
It’s very important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to take into consideration. It’s very essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your hearing safe. This is because you’re not as likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
Each type of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but much of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are a better 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 solution (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Consistent Level of Hearing Protection
Comfort is significant 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. So the most crucial 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 need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.