How to Choose the Right Ear Protection

You only have five senses. Obviously, protecting those senses is important.

How do you protect your ears on a noisy jobsite? How can you choose the right ear protection for your needs? Do you even need to wear ear protection?

Today, I’m going to explain exactly how to choose the perfect ear protection for your needs:

Earplugs versus earmuffs

In general, worksites have two types of ear protection: earplugs and earmuffs. Earplugs go directly in the ears while earmuffs are worn over the ears.ear1

Which one is right for you? Here are some things to consider:

-Earmuffs tend to be more comfortable when worn for long periods of time

-Earmuffs can be obstructed by hardhats, glasses, and other headgear

-Earplugs can be easily put in your pocket and carried around

-Disposable earplugs cost about $1 while earmuffs cost $15 and up

Know your Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)

Noise protection pieces are assigned a Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR.

A good set of noise protecting earmuffs or earplugs will have a NRR of 25 or higher. Anything less than 25 NRR is not ideal (unless, of course, you want to hear some of the noise going on around you).

Typically, shop earplugs and earmuffs are rated between NRR 22 and NRR 33.

NRR and decibels are intricately linked. Some people mistakenly believe that earplugs with an NRR of say, 30, will reduce noise by 30dB.

That’s not true. Instead, NRR and decibels are connected using the following equation:

-Subtract 7 from the NRR

-Divide that number by 2

This gives you your total decibel reduction. If you wear NRR 33db earplugs to a 100db rock concert, you will reduce your decibel exposure by 13 for a total decibel exposure of 87.

Should you wear dual hearing protectors?

On some jobsites, you’ll encounter people wearing double noise protection. They have earplugs in their ears and are wearing earmuffs over top.ear2

Why would someone do that? Is it safe?

Well, people do this in order to maximize noise reduction. However, the effects do not technically “stack” on top of one another. You can’t wear NRR 25 earplugs and NRR 30 earmuffs to get a total of 55 NRR.

Instead, you simply add 5 NRR points to the earmuffs/earplugs with the higher rating. That’s it. In the example above, the total NRR would be 34 because 29+5 = 34.

How much noise is too much?

One common problem at jobsites is that people are unaware how much noise is considered “too much”.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has produced the following chart to help us answer that question:ear3 If you’re exposed to sound levels of over 97 decibels for 3 hours per day, then the OSHA recommends ear protection. That’s also the case with 90 decibel noise exposure for longer than 8 hours per day, and 115 decibel noise exposure for more than 15 minutes per day.

Of course, that chart only answers part of the question. You still need to determine how loud your work environment is in decibels.

Here are some decibel comparisons you can use:

30dB: Whispers and quiet libraries

40dB: Quiet room

50dB: Light to moderate rainfall

60dB: An average conversation or dishwasher

70dB: Vacuum cleaner

80dB: A ringing alarm clock or a busy street

90dB: A lawnmower or shop tools

100dB: Chain saws, pneumatic drills, and snowmobiles

110dB: Machinery and model airplanes

120dB: A jet plane taking off, band practice, or car stereo

130dB: Jackhammer

140dB: Firearms, air-raid siren, or a jet engine

150dB: Rock concerts at their loudest peak

Anything above 120dB is considered to be “painfully” loud. Between 90 and 110dB is considered extremely loud. Consider the chart above to decide when and if you should wear ear protection.

Your goal with ear protection is to reduce your decibel exposure to below the recommended daily limits. Remember the equation we talked about above: Look at the NRR, subtract 7, and then divide that number by 2. That’s the number of decibels you avoid while wearing that specific ear protection.

Ready to buy ear protection? Check out our selection of foam earplugs at today.

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