A loud workplace isn’t all that great for your ears (or your focus, for that matter). Even modest noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can begin to undermine the health of your hearing. That’s why it’s pretty smart to begin asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
Most of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it seems logical when you stop to think about it. A truck driver won’t need the same level of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Hearing Damage Levels
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a general rule of thumb. We’re not really used to thinking about sound in decibels (even though that’s how we calculate sound – it just isn’t a number we’re used to putting into context).
Eighty-five decibels is about how loud city traffic is when you’re driving your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness 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 a day or more, you should probably think about wearing hearing protection. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): injury will start to occur to your ears 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 level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be harmful to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If your exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will cause instant damage and most likely pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you wear to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those noises for any duration.
Find a Comfortable Fit
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of hearing protection. The outside world will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s really important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level will be appropriate).
Comfort is also an important component to take into consideration. 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.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- In-ear earplugs
- Earplugs that sit just outside of the ear canal.
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is frequently the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are irritating, so earmuffs may be a better choice. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better alternative (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).
Find a Constant Degree of Hearing Protection
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative impact on your hearing over time. 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 find the right level of hearing protection for your circumstance.