Your hearing can be damaged by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your concentration. The health of your hearing can be negatively affected by even moderate levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Many of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take a moment to consider it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. We aren’t really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it just isn’t a number we’re used to putting into context).
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. That’s not a big deal, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to consider wearing ear protection. But that’s not the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes will be harmful to your hearing.
- 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 harm and probably pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, utilize hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will become (temporarily).
It’s really important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will typically make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to consider as well: comfort. As it happens, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
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 the majority of your hearing protection choices will depend upon personal preference. For some people, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should remove them at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Find a Constant Level of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is an important factor. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the whole workday is the best option.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.