A loud workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can start to undermine your hearing health. That’s why it’s pretty smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
Most of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to consider it. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start damaging your ears. We’re not really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a number we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very significant when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to think about ear protection if you’re 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): Anything over four hours is considered damaging to your ears.
- 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 takes place after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your hearing.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant harm and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. The outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s really important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an essential component to think about. It turns out, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- In-ear earplugs
There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of protection, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. Earmuffs are a better option for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other individuals might value the leave-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is significant 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 effect on your hearing over time. So the most crucial 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 level of hearing protection for your circumstance.