Protect Your Hearing on the Job
Wearing earplugs and earmuffs can protect your hearing on the job. Noise at work that
is above 85 decibels can cause damage to your ears. One-time exposures that are very
loud can cause permanent hearing damage.
Once noise permanently damages the nerve endings in the inner ear, there's really
no way to repair your hearing. Even a hearing aid can't completely correct it.
What's too loud?
The noise level is dangerously high when you have to raise your voice to talk with
someone an arm's length away. Another sign is ringing in the ears or slight deafness
for several hours after exposure.
Under U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers must
offer hearing protection when sound levels average more than 85 decibels (dB) in an
8-hour day. OSHA says employers must make sure workers use that protection when sound
levels average more than 90 dB in a day. You'll hear about this much noise from a
lawnmower, shop tools, or truck traffic.
The 2 main hearing-protection choices, earplugs and earmuffs, can cut noise by 15
dB to 30 dB when properly fitted. OSHA says earplugs protect better against low-frequency
noise like a loud tractor. Earmuffs do well with high-frequency noise, like pneumatic
What to do
To provide protection:
Earplugs must block the ear canal with an airtight seal, so you must choose the
right shape and size for your ears. If they won't stay in place, plugs can be
fitted to a headband.
Earmuffs must fit firmly over your entire outer ear to form an airtight seal.
They're held in place by an adjustable headband. If you wear them over eyeglasses
or long hair, you won't have the proper seal.
Earplugs and earmuffs can be worn together when noise is greater than 105 dB—louder
than a chain saw or pneumatic drill. The combination adds 10 dB to 15 dB of protection.
Noise-canceling earphones are available that actually cancel background noise.
These can be worn when flying, riding in the car (not driving), or other noisy
transportation, or in environments with loud background noise.