What Hearing Protection Do You Need?

man cutting wood while wearing yellow over-the-head ear protection

If you’re in a loud environment, any type of hearing protection is better than nothing. However, some varieties are better suited to different environments than others. When it comes to hearing protection, it is critical to first find out the level of noise mitigation you require. 

Ideally, you want the sound reaching your ears to be 85 dB or less. Researchers believe that this is the safe threshold, with noises above this level potentially causing damage. As noises get louder, they become progressively more dangerous. For instance, you may be able to listen to a 90 dB sound for up to an hour without harming your hearing, while noise of 140 dB or more could cause instant, permanent damage to your ears. 

Hearing protection brands will frequently quote the level of protection that their devices offer, called the Noise Reduction Rating or NRR. The current maximum NRR is 33. This figure means that the device will reduce the amount of noise coming into the ear by an estimated 33 dB. 

NRRs, however, tend to be a little overstated. So you’ll need to subtract a correction factor from the manufacturer’s rating. If you wear earmuffs (headphone-like devices that fit over the outer ear), subtract 25 percent from the NRR. If you use earplugs, you may have to reduce the NRR by 50 to 70 percent. 

If the NRR is 33, the maximum noise you should expose yourself to is around 110 dB. However, if you know that the sound is quieter than this, then you can choose hearing protection with a lower NRR. 

Here are some decibel levels associated with common noises you might encounter: 

  • Busy road in a city: 80 dB
  • Lawn mower: 85 dB
  • Digger operating: 90 dB
  • Car horn: 110 dB
  • Rock concert: 120 dB
  • Siren: 120 dB
  • Aircraft jet: 140 dB

As you can see, some of the noises fall outside of the safe range for any type of hearing protection, so you’ll want to avoid these where possible. 

Which Type Of Hearing Protection Do You Need For Your Circumstances? 

While anyone can go out and buy earplugs or muffs whenever they want, each has specific applications – times when they come in handy more than others. 

For instance, if you’re trying to get to sleep, you don’t want to wear large, bulky earmuffs that could fall off the moment you turn your head. So, in this situation, wearing earplugs is the better option. 

Similarly, if you’re at a rock concert and want to dance around, earmuffs don’t make a lot of sense. They could fall off. Earplugs, on the other hand, stay in place – one of the reasons why audiologists recommend them. 

Earmuffs, however, might be better in other situations. They are big, bulky and robust, and easy to put on, making them great for building sites. And some people find them more comfortable because you don’t have to insert them into their ears. They simply fit over them like earphones.