Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your focus. The health of your hearing can be negatively affected by even moderate noise levels if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours each day. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a basic rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a number we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is about 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.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you need to think about 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): Damage will start to happen to your hearing if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour is considered damaging to your ears.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing happens 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 instant pain.
You’ll want the ear protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those noises for any duration.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
Most workplaces will have recommendations as to what degree of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s essential to have the right protection.
Comfort is also an important component to think about. It’s really essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your hearing safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of protection, but most of your hearing protection choices will depend upon personal preference. Earmuffs are a better option for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other people, 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 lead to damage, so comfort is an important factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the whole workday is the best solution.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.