Your hearing can be damaged by a loud workplace and it can also impact your concentration. The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take some time to consider 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 fact that 85dB of sound can begin to harm your ears is a general rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it just isn’t a figure 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? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because the frequency and duration of exposure are very important when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
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 harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour is considered harmful to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Damage to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this noise level for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to 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 noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter outside sound will become (temporarily).
It’s incredibly important that you choose 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 think about. 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 use your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
Hearing Protection Choices
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best choice for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other individuals, 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 Level of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important because any lapse in your hearing protection can lead to damage. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your hearing can suffer over the long run. So the most crucial decision you can make is to select hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will remain healthier and happier if you choose the right degree of hearing protection for your circumstance.