A noisy workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Your hearing health 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 begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
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 jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin damaging your ears. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to consider wearing ear protection. But there are some other important thresholds to take note 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): Anything over one hour will be harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and could even cause instant pain.
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 outside world will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s really important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make suggestions 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.
What Are my Hearing Protection Options?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but the majority of your hearing protection choices will depend upon personal preference. For some people, earplugs are irritating, so earmuffs may be a better choice. Other people may value the put-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should remove them at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is important 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. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best option.
You’re ears will stay healthier and happier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your situation.