A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even moderate 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’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t require the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start damaging your ears. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re sitting inside your car. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you should probably consider wearing hearing protection. But there are a few other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will begin to occur to your hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be damaged when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and might even cause immediate pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, wear hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
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 outside sound will become (temporarily).
Most workplaces will have recommendations as to what degree of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s essential to have the correct protection.
Comfort is also an essential factor to think about. As it happens, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your ears healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
Hearing Protection Options
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best option for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other individuals might value the put-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (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
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. 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. So the most crucial decision you can make is to choose hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will stay healthier and happier if you find the right degree of hearing protection for your situation.