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 the health of your hearing. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take some time to consider it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t need the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. We aren’t really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it just isn’t 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 isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because it isn’t just the volume of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider hearing protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. 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 above one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Damage to your hearing happens after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant harm and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the hearing protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those sounds for any duration.
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 really important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make suggestions about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to think about also: comfort. As it happens, comfort is extremely important to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, 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
There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of protection, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so earmuffs may be a better choice. Other individuals may value 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).
Find a Consistent Level of Hearing Protection
Comfort is essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best choice.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.