Ear Protection In The Workplace | How Loud Is Too Loud?
Hearing is something we often take for granted in the workplace, as well as in life in general. The problem with hearing is that we always assume that we can hear what everyone else hears, despite the fact that it usually takes awhile before we realize that we may be losing our hearing. This usually comes in those moments when your spouse or friend becomes frustrated with you because they think you’re not listening, when in actuality your hearing has been damaged. Hearing loss is usually a gradual process, so it normally takes awhile before it is recognized, even by the individuals themselves. This is one of the biggest reasons why ear protection in the workplace is so important.
A majority of workplaces have measures in place to reduce the amount of noise and clatter, such as ear muffs, ear plugs, or by enclosing or muffling machines that cause a lot of racket. However, these measures can never eliminate noise completely, so it is important to keep this in mind when working. Companies will also try to prevent and reduce hearing issues by rotating workers through areas that experience a lot of noise throughout the day to reduce excessive exposure. If you are one of these types of workers, odds are you are probably already required to wear some type of hearing protection. This can be annoying for a lot of workers, but if they fully understood the implications loud noises have on their hearing, they would be much more proactive when it comes to protecting their ears.
So let’s take a closer look at what exactly can cause damage to your ears. As a starting point, ear protection should be worn anytime the decibel level in the area will reach, or eclipse, 85 decibels (dBA). This is the industry standard for an 8-hour weighted average. This can change, however, if you are working in the same area for a longer period of time. Simply put, the longer and louder your exposure, regardless if you are at work, at home, or just out in public somewhere, the higher your likelihood is of experiencing some level of damage to your ears. To help you better understand exactly how loud is too loud, keep the following in mind when trying to determine the current decibel level in the area you are working.
- Faint whisper-20 decibels
- Quiet, pleasant sounds, a bird chirping-30 to 40 decibels
- Quiet to normal office sounds-40 to 50 decibels
- Normal, everyday conversation-50 to 60 decibels
- Heavy machinery, garbage disposal, electric motors, city traffic-70 to 90 decibels
- Power saw, jack hammer, lawn mower, motorcycle, rock music-100 to 120 decibels
- Gun shot, jet engine-140+ decibels (this level will cause physical pain in your ears if unprotected)
As you can see, it takes a significant decibel level for sounds to actually physically hurt your ears, so it is important to KNOW what the decibel level is. A majority of the time, your ears will not give you warning when your hearing is being damaged, so you should be wearing hearing protection anytime there is loud equipment or noises nearby, no matter what. Most disposable or resuable ear plugs will reduce noise levels by around 20 to 30 decibels. Be sure to check the noise reduction rating (NRR) on the package. However, it is extremely important to note that these earplugs were tested in laboratories with perfectly fitted ear plugs. Because of this, the laboratory ear plugs provide much more protection that the actual ear plugs you get in the field. In actuality, ear plugs only reduce noise levels by about 7 decibels. If you want ear protection that is guaranteed, we recommend ear muffs.
We already know that some degree of hearing loss is associated with aging, but if you neglect to wear the proper ear protection when working around loud equipment and in noisy scenarios, you will quicken this process and could possibly even go completely deaf with little to no warning. The last thing you want to be is the person who can’t even hold a normal conversation due to their poor hearing simply because you refused to protect your ears.