Your hearing can be damaged by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your concentration. Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to weaken the health of your hearing. For this reason questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Most of us probably didn’t even realize 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 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 start harming your ears. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it’s just not a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is about how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are extremely important when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you should probably consider using ear protection. 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 damaging to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be damaged when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this noise level for any amount of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will lead to immediate harm and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those sounds for any duration.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. Outside sound will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s incredibly important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically make recommendations about what level will be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to consider as well: comfort. It’s really important that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your hearing safe. This is because you’re less 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:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but the majority of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are a better option for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. Other individuals might value the put-them-in-and-forget-them strategy 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).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is essential 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 scratchy, your ears 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.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.