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 damage your ears. One-time exposures that are very loud can
cause lasting (permanent) hearing damage.
Once noise permanently damages the nerve endings in the inner ear, there's really
no way to fix 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 a few feet away. Or when you can't understand someone speaking to you from
less than 2 feet away. Another sign is ringing in the ears or slight deafness for
several hours after exposure.
Under rules from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers
must offer hearing protection when sound levels average more than 85 decibels in an
8-hour day. OSHA says employers must make sure workers use that protection when sound
levels average more than 90 decibels 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
to 30 decibels when correctly fitted. Earplugs protect better against low-frequency
noise such as a loud tractor. Earmuffs do well with high-frequency noise, such as
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
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 correct seal.
Earplugs and earmuffs can be worn together when noise is greater than 105 decibels.
This is louder than a chain saw or pneumatic drill. The combination adds 10 to 15
decibels of protection.
Noise-canceling earphones are available that actually block 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.