A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to harm your ears is a standard rule of thumb. We’re not really used to considering sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t 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? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s 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 should probably consider using ear protection. But that’s not the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours will be harmful to your hearing.
- 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 occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this noise level for any length of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and could even cause instant pain.
You’ll want the ear protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those sounds for any duration.
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 outside sound will become (temporarily).
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what level of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
Comfort is also an important component to take into consideration. It turns out, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
Each type of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. For other people, 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
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a significant factor. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to take them off 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 whole workday is the best choice.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears healthy and happy.