A noisy workplace isn’t very good for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even moderate noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to undermine the health of your hearing. That’s why it’s pretty smart to start 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 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.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can begin to harm your ears is a basic rule of thumb. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because it’s not just the loudness of the noise that you need to be aware of, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider ear protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or more for 8 hour days. But that’s not the only threshold you should be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours will be harmful to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Anything above one hour will be 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 you are exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This amount of noise will lead to instant harm and most likely pain to your ears.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, utilize hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear 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 incredibly important that you pick hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will typically make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another element to consider also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is extremely significant to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
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 sit within the ear canal
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but much of your hearing protection choices will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are the best option for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better option (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 Constant Level of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your ears can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best option.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you find the right level of hearing protection for your situation.