Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your concentration. Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can start to undermine the health of your hearing. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take some time to consider it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t require the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start harming 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 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. That isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But that isn’t the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours will be harmful to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears 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 occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this noise level for any amount of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to instant harm and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the hearing protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, especially if you’re exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
It’s incredibly important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to consider as well: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it.
What Are my Hearing Protection Options?
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of protection, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best 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 solution (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 essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative impact 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 remain healthier and happier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your circumstance.