A loud workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even modest noise, when experienced for many 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.
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. 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 harm 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 about how loud city traffic is when you’re sitting inside your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you should probably think about wearing hearing protection. But that isn’t the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours will be harmful to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes will be harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this noise level for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant damage and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the hearing protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those sounds for any amount of time.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will be (temporarily).
It’s very important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make suggestions about what level might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important factor to take into consideration. It’s really essential 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.
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 form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so earmuffs may be a better choice. Other individuals might value the leave-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Constant Degree of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is an important factor. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the whole workday is the best solution.
You’re ears will remain happier and healthier if you find the right level of hearing protection for your circumstance.