Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your focus. Even moderate noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to undermine your hearing health. That’s why it’s really smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
It isn’t common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic will need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start harming your ears. 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 the duration and frequency of exposure are very significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider hearing protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But that’s not the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will begin 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): Anything over one hour will be harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing happens 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): This level of noise will lead to immediate harm and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, use 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 outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s very important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically make guidelines about what level will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential factor to think about. As it happens, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
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 benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some people, earplugs are irritating, 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 will need to 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 result in damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. So the most crucial decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears happy and healthy.