A noisy workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
It isn’t common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to consider it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic will require 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. We aren’t really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it just isn’t a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. At least, it’s a biggie after several hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you are 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 will be harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 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 damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and might even cause instant pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of noise, use hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
It’s incredibly 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).
Comfort is also an essential factor to think about. It turns out, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit 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 a better option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Constant Level of Hearing Protection
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 entire workday is the best choice.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.