Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your focus. Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can start to undermine the health of your hearing. That’s why it’s really smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Most of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But when you take some time to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin damaging your ears. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a figure we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s rather significant. It becomes a big deal after numerous hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very important when it comes to damaging exposure to noise.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to think about 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 should be aware 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 level of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be damaged when exposed to this noise level for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Injury to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): Any exposure can cause damage to your ears.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant harm and most likely pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these levels of noise, use hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. 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 usually make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another element to think about as well: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your ears healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of protection, but much of your hearing protection decision will come down to personal preference. Earmuffs are the best choice for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
Find a Constant Degree of Hearing Protection
Comfort is important 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 uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. So the most crucial decision you can make is to choose 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 situation.