A noisy workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively impacted by even modest levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. That’s why it’s pretty smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take a moment to consider it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic will need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin 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).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s approximately 85 decibels. That’s not a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about hearing protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But that’s not the only threshold you should be aware 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 ears will be injured when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant harm and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of noise, use hearing protection that will bring the volume 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. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will become (temporarily).
It’s incredibly important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make suggestions about what level will be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to consider also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but much of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are the best choice for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other people might appreciate the leave-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (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).
Find a Consistent Degree of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is an important factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best solution.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.