Noise is all around us. Jackhammers, chain saws, air compressors, heavy equipment, and power tools all expose us to noise above 80 to 85 decibels. You have to protect your hearing. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, hearing loss is one of the most common work-related problems in the US. Every day, millions of workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels; and every day, the smart ones protect their hearing. If you need to shout to be heard by someone who’s standing an arm’s length away, you probably need hearing protection. Keep the following ideas in mind when you decide how to safeguard your hearing.
Earplugs or earmuffs. The type of hearing protection you choose has to provide sufficient protection against the noise. Fortunately, there are a variety of options available: expandable foam plugs, pre-molded reusable plugs, and earmuffs. Look for a rating called NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) on the package. Higher NRR values mean greater capacity for noise reduction and increased protection.
Comfort. Your hearing protection has to be reasonably comfortable or you’re not likely to wear it. Of course, if you aren’t wearing it, it won’t do you much good. Those same options fit differently and feel differently in or on your ears. If you hate wearing earplugs, or if you have an ear infection, earmuffs are a good option. Earmuffs are also good when noise exposure is sporadic, since it may be inconvenient to remove and reinsert earplugs. The best hearing protection fits properly, feels comfortable, and stays in place.
Accessibility. Hearing protection has to be accessible.Workers need to have convenient and easy access to hearing protection on the job. Your employer should make hearing protection readily available and make sure that it’s appropriate for the noise levels in your work area.
Communication. The right hearing protection reduces noise to a safe level and still allows you to be able to hear enough to communicate. On a job site, it’s essential that you are able to communicate with co-workers. You need to hear oncoming traffic and near-by alarms. If you can’t hear someone saying “Hey, watch out!” you could be in trouble.
Earbuds are not earplugs. Listening to music with earbuds is not protecting your hearing. In fact, if you turn up the volume so you can hear the music over the noise, you’re making the problem worse by increasing the sound level in your ear—you’re doing more damage to your hearing. Wear proper hearing protection that reduces the noise level.
Hearing loss doesn’t heal or grow back. Once you’ve lost all or part of your hearing, it’s gone forever. If you want to be able to hear when you’re older—the TV, the birds singing, your granddaughter’s first words—you have to protect your hearing now.
SAFETY REMINDER- Protect your hearing at home, too. Wear hearing protection when you mow the lawn, attend loud concerts, operate power tools, etc.