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Noise Part 2: How to Protect Yourself From Hearing Loss

Reduce the Volume or Duration of the Noise

The longer you are exposed to a loud noise, the more damaging it may be. The louder the noise, the higher the risk. Also, the closer you are to the source of intense noise, the more damaging it is. (Every gunshot produces a noise that could damage the ears of anyone in close hearing range.)

So, to protect your ears, you either reduce the length of your exposure to a loud noise, or you reduce the noise level. You can reduce the noise level either by increasing your distance from the source of the noise, or by wearing special hearing protection.

Types of Hearing Protectors

There are two common styles of hearing protectors: ear muffs and ear plugs. One or the other may be more suitable in certain work environments.

Ear muff hearing protection
Ear muffs offer great protection
Photo © Pinto & Associates, Inc.
Ear Muffs
Ear muffs cover the ears and fit over the top of the head. They tend to offer better sound protection but they may be uncomfortable in a hot, humid environment. If you must wear a bump cap or hard hat on the job, there are ear muff attachments that clip onto the cap. There are also special ear muffs for people who wear glasses. Ear muffs may be a better choice for people with unusually shaped ear canals who may find ear plugs uncomfortable.
Ear Plugs
foam ear plugs
Ear plugs come in many styles
Photo © andydidyk @ istockphoto
Ear plugs are inserted into the ear canal. (Note: Cotton balls are not considered an acceptable protective device.) Ear plugs come as one-size-fits-all, molded in several sizes, or as formable plugs that expand to fit the ear canal. Reusable ear plugs need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly to reduce risk of infection. Ear plugs may be connected with a cord to prevent their loss and so that they can be worn around your neck when not in use.



Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)

A hearing protection device reduces the noise to an acceptable level, it does not block all sound, so if the noise is loud enough, regular hearing protection may not be adequate to prevent injury. The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is the measure, in decibels, of how well a hearing protector reduces noise. The NRR will be listed on the package or on the device itself.

The higher the number, the greater the noise reduction. Ear plugs with an NRR of 30 reduce a dangerous 100dB noise down to a safe 70dB (100dB - 30dB = 70dB).

The best noise reduction rating of a hearing protector is one high enough to reduce noise to an acceptable level, but still low enough for you to hear vocal commands while on the job.

Back to Noise Part 1: Loud Noise on the Job Can Damage Your Hearing


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