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 affected by even moderate levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours every day. That’s why it’s really smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
Most of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take some time to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic will require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how dangerous it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s approximately 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a biggie after several hours. Because it’s not just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But there are a few other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will start to occur to your ears if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be injured when exposed to this noise level for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and could even cause immediate pain.
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 noises for any duration.
Find a Comfortable Fit
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. The outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what degree of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s important to have the right protection.
But there’s another aspect to consider as well: comfort. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your hearing safe. This is because you’re not as likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but the majority of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are a better choice for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other people, 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 Consistent Degree of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a significant factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the whole workday is the best option.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears happy and healthy.