A noisy 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 start to undermine the health of your hearing. This is why questions like “what hearing protection do I need?” are worth asking.
Many of us probably didn’t even realize there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it makes sense when you stop to consider it. A truck driver won’t require the same amount of protection that a jet engine mechanic will.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to damage your ears is a basic rule of thumb. We aren’t really used to thinking about sound in terms of decibels (even though that’s how we calculate 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 sitting inside your car. That isn’t a big deal, right? Actually, it’s pretty significant. At least, it’s a big deal after several hours. Because it’s not just the volume of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Common Danger Zones
It’s time to consider hearing protection if you’re exposed to noise at 85 dB or more 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): Anything over four hours will be damaging to your hearing.
- 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): Anything over fifteen minutes will be harmful 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 lead to damage and could even cause immediate pain.
You’ll want the hearing protection you choose to be sufficient to bring the decibel level below that 85 dB level, particularly if you are exposed to those noises for any amount of time.
Find a Comfortable Fit
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The higher the NRR, the quieter your world will be (temporarily).
The majority of workplaces will have recommendations as to what degree of protection will keep your ears safe because it’s important to have the right protection.
But there’s another factor to consider also: comfort. It turns out, comfort is incredibly important to keeping your hearing healthy. Why? Because if your hearing protection is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it.
Hearing Protection Options
You’ve got three basic options to choose from:
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
Each type of protection has benefits and drawbacks, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best choice for people whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other individuals, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better option (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
Comfort is significant because any lapse in your hearing protection can result in damage. If you remove your earmuffs for ten minutes because they’re heavy and uncomfortable, your hearing can suffer over the long run. This is why hearing protection that you can leave in for the full workday is the best solution.
You’re ears will stay happier and healthier if you choose the right degree of hearing protection for your situation.