A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). The health of your hearing can be negatively affected by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours each day. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a basic rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to considering sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a number 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? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a biggie after several hours. Because it’s not just the volume of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about hearing 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): injury will begin to happen to your hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered 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): If your exposed to this noise level for any amount of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and may even cause instant pain.
You’ll want the hearing protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those noises for any duration.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world 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 might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential factor to think about. It’s really important that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your hearing safe. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best choice for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better option (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Consistent Level of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. 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. So the most important decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears happy and healthy.