A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively affected by even moderate levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Most of us probably didn’t even realize there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic will need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a basic rule of thumb. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re sitting inside your car. That’s not a big deal, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. It becomes a big deal after numerous 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’s not the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything over four hours will be harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing takes place after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will cause immediate harm and probably pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these levels of noise, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound 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 will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to think about. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your hearing healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually use 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.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but the majority of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. Earmuffs are the best option 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
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a significant factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. So the most important decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears happy and healthy.