A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your concentration, for that matter). Even modest noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to undermine the health of your hearing. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t require the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
Eighty-five decibels is about how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a big deal after eight 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 consider ear protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury 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): Anything above one hour is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and may even cause instant pain.
You’ll want the hearing protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, especially if you are exposed to those noises for any duration.
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).
Most workplaces will have guidelines as to what degree of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s essential to have the correct protection.
But there’s another aspect to consider also: comfort. It’s really essential that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your ears safe. This is because you’re not as likely to actually use your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but the majority of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. Other individuals may appreciate the put-them-in-and-forget-them approach 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).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative effect on your hearing over time. So the most important decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will remain happier and healthier if you choose the right degree of hearing protection for your circumstance.