Each day, we are exposed to harmful noise such as machinery, music, or loud vehicles. Many of us work every day in these noisy environments, which can slowly deteriorate our ability to hear even though we get used to the sound; this is called noise-induced hearing loss.
This type of hearing loss is irreversible and once the effects are noticed, it’s often too late. Fortunately, there are many steps that can be taken to mitigate the impact of harmful noises, and we’ll cover many hearing protection tips today.
How Loud is too Loud?
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), the maximum decibel limit for an eight-hour workday is 90 dB; 92 dB for six hours; 95 dB for four hours; and 97 dB for three hours. OSHA requires that employers put in place a hearing conservation program when 85 dB is exceeded during an average of 8 working hours.
These programs are intended to prevent hearing loss at the onset, protecting from further damage, and educate employees on the importance of ear protection to safeguard their hearing in the future.
A good way to gauge if your working environment exceeds 85 dB is if you need to raise your voice to speak to someone 3 feet away.
Refer to the figure to compare the decibel levels of various commonplace activities.
1. Wearable Hearing Protection
The most practical method of protecting your ears against hearing loss is wearable hearing protection. The two general forms of wearables come in earplugs, which are inserted directly into the ear canal, and earmuffs, which fit over the top of the ears.
Not all forms of hearing protection are equal, however – some devices have been fitted with advanced technologies that act as both a safeguard as well as an awareness enhancement to boost your capabilities.
One such example is the 3M Peltor TEP-200 earplug. The NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) in the TEP-200 is 23 dB, which means you can operate in noise levels up to 108 dB while remaining at OSHA’s workplace limit. Additional capabilities include connectivity to two-way radios and level-dependent technology which improves your situational awareness through the noise.
On the headset side, the 3M Comtac earmuffs are one of the most popular choices, especially for tactical users. The Comtac III hearing defender has a NRR up to 32.2 dB, which keeps users safe in the most extreme environments like the military. It includes a noise-cancelling microphone that enables you to communicate through the noise, level-dependent protection against impulse and steady-state noise, and the NIB (Natural Interaction Behavior) feature which allows for peer to peer headset communication.
Overall, the type of peltor ear protection required depends on individual circumstances. For users in less extreme environments such as a factory, simple earplugs should be enough. When the environment is more complex and requires regular communication with others, then you might want to consider a headset or earplugs with the capability to connect with two-way radio.
2. Applications to Monitor Sound
Another technological aid to protect yourself from harmful sounds is an application designed to monitor the level of noise in your surroundings. There are a wide variety of both free and paid apps for Android and iPhone that turn the phone mic into a sound meter. These utilities can allow you to detect harmful noise levels with precision and put protections in place.
3. Keeping Volume Levels in Check
One of the most common ways people unknowingly lose their hearing is through their headphones while listening to music or watching videos. You should never turn your phone volume all the way up in order to drown out the sound around you – doing so for a prolonged period of time will gradually deteriorate your ability to hear.
4. Have Your Hearing Examined
Even if you have not noticed any symptoms of hearing loss, the process may have already begun taking place. As a result, a hearing exam shouldn’t be put off until after you’ve noticed signs, especially if you find yourself working regularly in environments with harmful noises. Doing so will allow you to gauge the impact of loud noises on your ears and let you know if you need to take further precautions to fight future hearing loss.
5. Take a Proactive Approach
Protecting your ears shouldn’t just be a regulation to follow in the work environment – your employer is required by OSHA guidelines but these rules aren’t always strictly followed. Moreover, hearing protection doesn’t end when you clock out, as we constantly encounter harmful sounds in our personal time.
When in and out of work, taking care of your hearing should be a top priority. Take note of harmful noises in your daily life, such as listening to music on headphones or working with loud machinery on the job.
If you are in the proximity of hazardous sound levels, you should be sure to take breaks, reduce the noise, and most importantly apply adequate protection. Do some research on hearing protection devices such as those discussed in this article and decide what form of safeguard is right for your life.
The ability to hear is crucial for interacting with those close to you, getting work done effectively, and being aware of your surroundings to keep yourself safe. Losing this vital sense can be devastating to daily life, and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
By following these simple, yet effective tips, you too can ensure yourself the important gift of hearing for years to come.