A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even modest levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for several hours each day. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
It’s not common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t need the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to damage your ears is a basic rule of thumb. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s about 85 decibels. That isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a biggie after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are extremely important when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about hearing protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But that isn’t the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered damaging to your ears.
- 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): Damage to your hearing happens after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will lead to instant damage and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those sounds for any duration.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will become (temporarily).
It’s really important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level might 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 isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but most of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. Earmuffs are the best 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 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
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. 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.
You’re ears will remain happier and healthier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your situation.