A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Your hearing health can be negatively affected by even modest levels of noise if you’re exposed to it for numerous hours each day. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
Most of us probably didn’t even know there were numerous levels of hearing protection. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t need the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The general rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how dangerous 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 sitting inside your car. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you need to think about wearing hearing protection. But that’s not the only threshold you should be aware 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 over one hour is considered harmful to your ears.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any length of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and might even cause instant pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these levels of sound, use hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
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 outside sound 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 will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to take into consideration. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to use if you want to keep your hearing safe. This is because you’re not as likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but much of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (of course, at the end of the workday you should take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Consistent Degree of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important 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 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 find the correct level of hearing protection for your situation.