A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to weaken your hearing health. This is why questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to damage your ears is a basic rule of thumb. 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.
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to think about wearing hearing protection. But that’s not the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage 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): Your ears will be injured when exposed to this noise level for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Damage to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause immediate harm and probably 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 outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s very 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 might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential factor to think about. It’s very essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your ears safe. This is because you’re less likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of protection, but most of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better alternative (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).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in 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. So the most important decision you can make is to choose hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.