The Incredible Value of Purchasing and Wearing Ear Muffs

If you are like many people, the term “ear muffs” makes you think of the cute fuzzy things that children wear about their ears in winter. However, there is another and more important meaning to that term, the protective headgear used to safeguard hearing at work and at play. There are many valuable ear safety resources to compare what’s on the market today, but here is a great summary for you.

In the following article we hope to raise your awareness of protecting your hearing and how to purchase the device that is right for you.

Most of us are familiar with the ringing in our ears from sitting in a loud room or after attending a musical concert. That ringing is known as tinnitus, caused by the inner ear being bombarded by a higher level of noise than it can handle. Temporary tinnitus, such as you might get from sitting too close to the stage, will usually disappear within a few days and leave no lasting effects.

However, according the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), long-term exposure to sounds above 60 decibels will damage hearing by doing structural damage to the ears hair cells leading to traumatic and permanent hearing loss. Tragically, this results in damage that cannot be corrected with surgery or by wearing hearing aids.

There are millions of people who face the frightening risk of harming their ability to hear. As will be seen, working in an environment that is very noisy without some type of ear protection is very serious.

A short list of occupations where people are at risk include firefighters, members of the military, subway workers, construction workers, musicians, factory workers and people who work in mines.

Fortunately, there are federal regulations surrounding the issue of protecting your hearing watched over by OSHA. These rules insist that employers follow a five-phase program to protect workers hearing.

  1. Noise Monitoring—employers must measure sound levels and decide what protection is needed.
  2. Hearing Testing—All employees must have a hearing test every year.
  3. Employee Training and Education—All employees must get hearing protection training every year.
  4. Hearing Protection—All employees must get the hearing protection they need for their job.
  5. Recordkeeping—Companies must keep records about sound levels, hearing tests, training, and more.

OSHA reports that “occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States.” In fact, they go on to say that, “over 30 million works in the United State” are exposed to noise that can cause hearing loss.

Workers aren’t the only people in peril of losing their hearing. Hunters and anyone else who uses a firearm for recreation are also at risk. In a paper written by Michael Stewart, Ph.D., CCC, a professor of Audiology from Central Michigan University, almost all firearms create noise that is greater than 140 decibels. This list includes small rifles, big bore rifles, and pistols. In fact, firing weapons where the sound can echo, or bounce off barriers such as structures makes the damage done by weapons even more deadly to hearing.

If you remember OSHA makes employers force their workforce to wear hearing protection at 60 decibels, so using a weapon without hearing protection can cause severe and permanent hearing loss with as little as one use. Every year Audiologists see patients who have been hunting, either as the person discharging the weapon or a bystander, who are found to have suffered hearing damage.

Don’t forget the danger of working with power saws for a hobby. Table saws create an enormous amount of noise, as do many other devices used for pleasure such as riding lawn mowers and electric drills.

Ear muffs, more commonly known as ear protectors, are a great solution to this enormously harmful problem. Ear muffs can be purchased in many different styles and sizes depending on the need of the wearer.

There are two main things to consider when deciding which style is appropriate for you.

The first consideration is safety. You need to figure out the level of sound you need to protect your hearing from, this will determine the minimum decibel protection you will need to buy. Most ear muffs are rated using an eight-hour consideration. The most common ratings are below:

  • 70-90 dB for heavy machinery, electric motors, garbage disposals, and city traffic. Workplaces could include construction sites, factories, and highway work.
  • 100-120 dB for a jackhammer, power saw, motorcycle, lawn mower, and rock music. Some places you may need this protection include a carpenter’s shop, construction sites and working in an arena.
  • 140+ dB for jet engines, and gunshots. Some places where this level may be needed are in airports, police work, and hunting.
  • For most industries, except workplaces with 140 dB or above, any type of hearing protection would help protect the hearing of the wearer.

The second consideration is comfort. When buying a pair of earmuffs, or when accepting some provided by your employer, look for how the ear muffs seal against the side of your head, and that the cup padding is intact and comfortable. Getting ear muffs with an adjustable band can make them more comfortable because you can change the orientation of them on your head throughout the day without compromising your protection. The ear muffs should tightly seal without pulling your hair or getting in the way of your clothing.

There is only one drawback to purchasing a set of ear muffs, the cost. The expense of earmuffs is much greater than that of regular headphones. They range from $50- several hundred dollars. Fortunately, due to OSHA regulations, most employers provide them for their workers. If you need a pair for recreational use, again the price tag is far less than the cost to your life for not wearing them and experiencing permanent hearing loss.

Whether you are working in a loud environment or enjoying your favorite hobby, ear muffs are a wonderful way to safeguard your hearing. Although they can be cumbersome and hot in some environments, wearing them can make you able to retain your hearing so that you can continue to interact with your loved ones for many years to come.

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