A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to weaken your hearing health. That’s why it’s pretty smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t need the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a basic rule of thumb. We’re not really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a figure we’re used to putting into context).
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 eight hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear 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 above four hours is considered 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 above fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any length of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will lead to instant harm and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, especially if you are exposed to those sounds for any duration.
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 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).
Comfort is also an essential component to think about. It’s really essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your hearing safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but most of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better option (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
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 you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your ears can suffer over the long run. So the most important decision you can make is to select hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.