A noisy workplace isn’t all that great 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. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
It’s not common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to think about 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 begin to harm your ears is a standard rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to considering sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we measure 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. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a big deal after eight hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are extremely important 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 using hearing protection. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 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 choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, especially if you’re 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. Outside sound will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s incredibly important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make suggestions about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another element to consider as well: comfort. It’s really 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 isn’t comfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Options?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but most of your hearing protection decision will depend upon personal preference. Earmuffs are the best option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better alternative (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 result in damage, so comfort is a significant factor. 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. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best option.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.