You probably don't need hearing protection if you work in a quiet office. But you do if your job requires hours aboard a lawnmower or shifts in a steel mill. Without appropriate protection, some noisy workplaces can cause damage in minutes. You might be surprised at some of the jobs that require ear plugs as part of your work attire.
Noise levels are expressed as decibels. The Occupational and Safety Health Administration has determined the length of time an employee can be subject to a certain number of decibels before she's at risk of incurring hearing damage. OSHA recommends no more than eight hours at 90 decibels; six hours at 92 decibels; four hours at 95 decibels; two hours at 100 decibels; and 20 minutes or less at 115 or more decibels. The University of South Dakota notes that unprotected exposure to 110 decibels or more for more than one minute can cause permanent hearing loss.
Factories aren't exactly known for their relaxing silence, which is why ear plugs are typically required. From the banging and clanging of a steel mill to the roaring of a circular saw, the sounds can quickly reach dangerous levels. This can be especially harmful in an indoor environment, where the sound doesn't easily disperse. For instance, a steel mill can produce noise at 118 decibels, while a circular saw produces noise between 100 and 109 decibels.
Construction workers have the advantage of the great outdoors to help lessen the impact of their noisy machinery, but all the empty space in the world doesn't help if you're close to all the racket. Jackhammers, chainsaws, pile drivers, bulldozers, concrete cutters and cranes are just a few pieces of equipment that can cause hearing loss over time if workers do not wear hearing protection. Noise from a jackhammer, for instance, weighs in at a whopping 130 decibels, while a bulldozer produces between noise at 100 and 109 decibels.
Don't skip hearing protection if you work on the tarmac of an airport -- or you won't have hearing to protect. At 140 decibels, a jet engine is among the loudest noise sources in a work environment. Even if your responsibilities lie with cleaning the interior of planes, you'll still spend time outside near the noisy parts of the jet. Lack of hearing protection is dangerous in these situations.
While the noise level of guns varies with each type of gun, firearms generally subject you to incredibly loud noise, at the level of 140 or more decibels. As a shooting range employee, you might not be firing guns and getting exposed to quite that level of noise. But you may still suffer hearing damage if you work nearby and don't wear hearing protection. This is especially true if you work in an indoor range, where the sound is amplified.
Some events aren't notable for their high noise level -- a baseball game and figure skating competition, for instance -- but others, such as a rock concert or fireworks display, are all about bangs, booms and thunderous sounds. Gauging the decibel level of most events is difficult, because it depends on the venue and the event itself, but the House Research Institute says that the peak noise levels of a rock concert can reach between 100 and 120 decibels. (Ref. 6, under "Measurements that determine...")The San Diego Union-Tribune notes that if you're within 10 feet of where fireworks are set off, you can be subject to noise levels of 155 or more decibels. (Ref. 7, first bullet point)
Making your living cutting grass, whacking down weeds and blowing leaves means your ears are taking a constant beating if you don't wear hearing protection. For example, a lawn mower can produce noise of 106 decibels, while a leaf blower can subject the user to 110 decibels. (Ref. 3, under "Extremely Loud"; Ref. 2 next to "110 Decibels")
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Personal Protective Equipment
- University of South Dakota: Noise and Hearing Protection
- American Speech-Language Hearing Association: Noise
- Washington Hospital Healthcare System: Hearing Protection: Measuring Sound
- Purdue University: Noise Sources and Their Effects
- House Research Institute: Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.