A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to undermine your hearing health. That’s why it’s really smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
Many of us probably didn’t even know there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how dangerous 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 driving your car. That’s not a big deal, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are very important when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will begin to happen to your hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered harmful to your ears.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and may even cause immediate pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of sound, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will be (temporarily).
It’s really important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to think about. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your hearing 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 sit just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better alternative (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Consistent Level of Hearing Protection
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. 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 happy and healthy.