A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to weaken your hearing health. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Most of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic will require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start harming your ears. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a figure 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? Actually, it’s pretty 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 how long you’re exposed.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you are 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 harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will cause immediate damage and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the hearing protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, especially if you’re exposed to those noises for any duration.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. 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 effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will typically make suggestions about what level will be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to consider also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. 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 alternative (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best solution.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.