Your hearing can be damaged by a noisy workplace and it can also affect your concentration. Even moderate noise, when experienced for many hours a day, can begin 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”?
It isn’t common knowledge that numerous levels of hearing protection are available. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic is going to require a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The standard rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can begin harming your ears. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
Eighty-five decibels is approximately how loud city traffic is when you’re sitting inside your car. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because the duration and frequency of exposure are very important when it comes to damaging noise 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 there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours will be damaging to your hearing.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your hearing will be injured when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Anything above fifteen minutes will be damaging to your hearing.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this noise level for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can cause damage and may even cause instant pain.
When you’re going to be exposed to these levels of sound, use hearing protection that will bring the decibels in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will be progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s incredibly important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make suggestions about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another aspect to think about also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your hearing healthy. This is because you’re not as likely to actually use your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
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
Each form of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is often 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 should take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Comfort is essential because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If you remove your earmuffs 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 whole workday is the best choice.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you find the right degree of hearing protection for your circumstance.