A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can start to weaken your hearing health. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
Many of us probably didn’t even know there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. 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 start to damage your ears is a general rule of thumb. We’re not really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But there are a few other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will begin to occur to your hearing if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be injured when exposed to this level of noise 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): Any exposure can cause damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and may even cause immediate pain.
When you’re going to be exposed to these volumes of noise, use hearing protection that will bring the decibels 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 determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. Outside sound will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s really important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential component to think about. As it happens, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but the majority of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. For some individuals, 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 solution (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the whole workday is the best solution.
You’re ears will remain happier and healthier if you choose the right level of hearing protection for your situation.