A loud workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours each day. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take some time to think about it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t require the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it’s just not a number we’re used to putting into context).
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 eight hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are extremely important when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about 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): injury will begin 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): Anything over one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause immediate damage and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of noise, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s very important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically 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 is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of protection, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (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 Consistent Degree of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a significant factor. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to take them off 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 whole workday is the best solution.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.