Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your focus. Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to weaken the health of your hearing. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t need 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 harming your ears. We’re not really used to considering sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are very important when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to consider wearing hearing protection. But that isn’t the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will start to happen to your ears 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): Anything above fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this level of noise for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and may even cause immediate pain.
When you’re going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, utilize 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 outside world will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s incredibly important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will typically make suggestions about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to think about also: comfort. It’s really essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your ears safe. This is because you’re not as 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 stay just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
Each type of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but much of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. 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 option (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should take them out 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. So the most crucial decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.