A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively affected by even modest levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours every day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. 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.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start damaging your ears. We’re not really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a figure we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s about 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the volume of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about hearing protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But that’s not the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will begin to occur to your hearing if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be injured when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing happens after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant harm and probably pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of noise, utilize hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s really important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically make guidelines about what level will be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to consider also: comfort. As it happens, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your hearing healthy. This is because you’re not as likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other individuals might value the put-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (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 Degree of Hearing Protection
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If you take your earmuffs off 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 entire workday is the best solution.
You’re ears will remain healthier and happier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your circumstance.