Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your concentration. Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin to undermine your hearing health. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection should I use”?
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take some time to think about it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t require the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start damaging your ears. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how harmful 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 isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are extremely significant when it comes to damaging noise exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you are exposed to noise at 85 dB or louder for 8 hour days. But that isn’t the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything over four hours will be harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour is considered harmful to your ears.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything over fifteen minutes is considered harmful 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 harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and may even cause immediate pain.
You’ll want the hearing protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those noises for any duration.
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).
The majority of workplaces will have guidelines as to what level of protection will keep your hearing safe because it’s essential to have the right protection.
But there’s another element to consider as well: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly significant to keeping your hearing healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually use your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that go within the ear canal
There are benefits and drawbacks 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 people may value the leave-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should take them out at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Find a Constant Degree of Hearing Protection
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is an important factor. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. So the most important decision you can make is to select hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you require can help keep your ears healthy and happy.