Your hearing can be damaged by a noisy workplace and it can also impact your concentration. Even moderate noise, when experienced for eight hours a day, can start to undermine your hearing health. That’s why it’s really smart to start asking questions like, “what level of hearing protection do I need”?
It isn’t common knowledge that several levels of hearing protection are available. But when you take some time to think about it, it makes sense. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Hearing Damage Levels
The basic rule of thumb is that 85 decibels (dB) of sound can start harming your ears. Putting sound into context regarding its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something most of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Wrong, it’s a big deal. It becomes a big deal after several hours. Because it isn’t just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s the duration of exposure.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you need to think about using hearing protection. But there are some other important thresholds to take note of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Damage will begin to occur to your hearing if you’re exposed to this volume of noise for 4 hours a day.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be damaged when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 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): If you are exposed to this noise level for any length of time, your hearing can be damaged.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): This level of noise will lead to instant harm and probably pain to your ears.
You’ll want the ear protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the volume below that 85 dB level, particularly if you’re exposed to those sounds for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
NRR, which is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rate, is a scale used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will become (temporarily).
It’s really important that you select hearing protection with a high enough NRR to keep you safe (and your workplace will typically make recommendations about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to think about also: comfort. As it happens, comfort is extremely important to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
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 type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. For some individuals, earplugs are uncomfortable, so they’d be better served with earmuffs. Other people may value the put-them-in-and-forget-them strategy of earplugs (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
Any laps in your hearing protection can lead to damage, so comfort is a significant 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. So the most important decision you can make is to pick hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
Investing in the degree of hearing protection you need can help keep your ears happy and healthy.