A noisy 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 the health of your hearing. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment 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 standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. We aren’t really used to considering sound in 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? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a biggie 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.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you need to consider using hearing protection. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury 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 over one hour is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this noise level for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will cause instant damage and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, especially if you are exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
Most workplaces will have recommendations as to what level of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
But there’s another factor to consider also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is extremely important to keeping your hearing healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Options?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. 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 solution (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 Level of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a major factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best option.
You’re ears will remain healthier and happier if you find the right degree of hearing protection for your situation.