A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to undermine your hearing health. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t need the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
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 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 about 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. 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 the duration of exposure.
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 there are some 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 hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be damaged when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant damage and probably pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these levels of noise, utilize hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will become (temporarily).
Most workplaces will have recommendations as to what degree of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
Comfort is also an essential component to take into consideration. As it happens, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit 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 often the deciding factor. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better alternative (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Consistent Level of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a major 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.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you find the right level of hearing protection for your circumstance.