Your hearing can be damaged by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your concentration. 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 should I use?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. 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 general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin 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 number we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a big deal after eight hours. Because it isn’t just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, 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 should probably consider wearing hearing protection. But there are a few other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour will be damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to instant damage and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of noise, wear hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will become (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 recommendations about what level will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to think about. As it happens, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually use your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people may value the put-them-in-and-forget-them strategy 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).
Find a Consistent Level of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is a major factor. 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 full workday is the best option.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you find the correct level of hearing protection for your situation.