A loud workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted 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.
It’s not common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The general 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’s just not a number we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s approximately 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you should probably consider wearing ear protection. But that isn’t the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will start to happen to your ears if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered harmful to your ears.
- 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): Any exposure can cause damage and may even cause immediate pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of noise, utilize hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
Most workplaces will have guidelines as to what degree of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
But there’s another element to think about as well: comfort. It’s very important 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.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of protection, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. Other people 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 take them out at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is essential 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 impact on your hearing over time. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best choice.
You’re ears will stay healthier and happier if you find the correct degree of hearing protection for your circumstance.