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 your hearing health. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Most of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic will need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a general rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it just isn’t a figure we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s approximately 85 decibels. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about hearing 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): Damage will start to occur to your ears if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour will be damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Damage 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 amount of noise will cause immediate harm and most likely pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these levels of noise, use hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
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 your world will be (temporarily).
It’s really important that you select 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 aspect to consider as well: comfort. It’s very essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your ears safe. This is because you’re not as likely to actually use 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 sit within the ear canal
There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of protection, but most of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. Other individuals may appreciate the put-them-in-and-forget-them approach 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 essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the whole workday is the best choice.
You’re ears will remain healthier and happier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your circumstance.