Your hearing can be harmed by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your focus. Your hearing health 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.
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 jet engine mechanic will need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a standard rule of thumb. We’re not really used to considering sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we measure sound – it’s just not 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’s not a big deal, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Common Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours every day or more, you need to consider wearing hearing protection. But there are a few other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will begin 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 above one hour will be damaging to your ears.
- 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 amount of noise will cause immediate harm and probably pain to your ears.
When you’re going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, use hearing protection that will bring the volume 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 determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. Outside sound will be 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 guidelines about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to consider as well: comfort. As it happens, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your hearing healthy. This is because you’re less likely to actually wear your hearing protection if it isn’t comfortable.
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 go within the ear canal
There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of protection, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some people, earplugs are irritating, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. Other people might value the leave-them-in-and-forget-them approach of earplugs (obviously, you won’t want to forget them for too long… you should take them out at the end of your workday. And clean them).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a major factor. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative effect on your hearing over time. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the entire workday is the best solution.
Investing in the level of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.