Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your focus. Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to undermine the health of your hearing. 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 when you take some time to consider it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to damage your ears is a basic rule of thumb. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
Eighty-five decibels is about how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But that’s not 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 hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be damaged when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will lead to 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, particularly if you’re exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
It’s very important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential component to think about. As it happens, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
What Are my Hearing Protection Options?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of protection, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best choice for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other individuals may value the leave-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).
Find a Constant Level of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important 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. So the most important decision you can make is to select hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.