Your hearing can be damaged by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your focus. Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to weaken the health of your hearing. This is why questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
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 require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a standard rule of thumb. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how dangerous it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
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. At least, it’s a biggie after several hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you need to think about using hearing protection. But that’s not the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will begin to happen to your ears if you’re exposed to this level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be injured when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this noise level for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant harm and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the hearing protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those sounds for any duration.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
It’s very important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to think about. It’s really essential 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 use your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Options?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so earmuffs may be a better choice. Other individuals may value the leave-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (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 Consistent Degree of Hearing Protection
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your ears can suffer over the long run. So the most important decision you can make is to choose hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you choose the right level of hearing protection for your situation.