Your hearing can be harmed by a loud workplace and it can also affect your focus. The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even moderate noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take a moment to think about it, it makes sense. A truck driver won’t need the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to damage your ears is a basic rule of thumb. We’re not really used to considering sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate 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 around 85 decibels. That’s not a big deal, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to think about wearing ear protection. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will start to happen to your hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything over one hour is considered damaging to your hearing.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing happens after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause harm to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to immediate 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, especially if you’re exposed to those sounds for any amount of time.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of hearing protection is quantified by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s very important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level will be appropriate).
But there’s another element to consider as well: comfort. It turns out, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Choices
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of protection, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better option (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is an important factor. If you take your earmuffs off for ten minutes because they’re heavy and scratchy, your hearing can suffer over the long run. 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.