A noisy 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 start 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 numerous levels of hearing protection. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic is going to 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 standard rule of thumb. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how dangerous it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s about 85 decibels. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
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 there are some other important thresholds to take note 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 noise level for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to immediate damage and probably pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these levels of noise, use hearing protection that will bring the decibels 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 determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will be (temporarily).
It’s incredibly important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make recommendations about what level will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential component to think about. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your ears safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
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.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of protection, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are a better option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people might appreciate the leave-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is important because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in 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. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best option.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears happy and healthy.