A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to weaken the health of your hearing. For this reason 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 it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A truck driver won’t require the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a standard rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we measure 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 driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. 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 the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you should probably think about using ear protection. 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 happen to your hearing if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing takes place after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to immediate damage and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of noise, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. Outside sound will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s very 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 will be appropriate).
But there’s another element to consider also: comfort. As it happens, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually use your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
Hearing Protection Options
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
Each type of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but much of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are a better choice for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people might value the put-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).
Find a Constant Degree of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best choice.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.