A loud workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours each day. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to consider it, it makes sense. 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 begin to harm your ears is a standard rule of thumb. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to consider using ear protection. But that isn’t the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be injured when exposed to this noise level for 1 hour a day.
- 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 ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will cause instant damage and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will become (temporarily).
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what level of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s important to have the correct protection.
But there’s another aspect to think about as well: 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 less likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
Hearing Protection Options
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. For some people, earplugs are irritating, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. Other people might value 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 important because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in 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. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best solution.
You’re ears will stay healthier and happier if you choose the right degree of hearing protection for your situation.