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 start to weaken the health of your hearing. That’s why it’s really smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
It’s not common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take some time to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic will need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start damaging your ears. 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 sitting inside your car. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider hearing 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): Anything over four hours is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour will be damaging 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): Any exposure can cause harm to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause immediate damage and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those sounds for any duration.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will become 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 recommendations about what level will be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to consider as well: comfort. It’s very essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your ears safe. This is because you’re less likely to actually use your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
Hearing Protection Options
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 kind of protection, but the majority of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. Earmuffs are the best option for individuals 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).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is an important factor. 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 full workday is the best choice.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.