A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively affected by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours every day. For this reason 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 seems logical 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 begin to damage your ears is a general 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 approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That’s not a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are very significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider hearing protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder 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): Anything above four hours is considered harmful to your ears.
- 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): Injury to your hearing takes place after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will cause immediate damage and most likely pain to your ears.
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.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
The majority of workplaces will have recommendations as to what degree of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s important to have the right protection.
Comfort is also an important component to think about. It’s really important that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your ears safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but most of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are a better option for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people might appreciate the put-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should remove them at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Find a Constant Level of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a major factor. 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. So the most important decision you can make is to choose hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will remain happier and healthier if you choose the right degree of hearing protection for your situation.