If you’re looking for ear protection from loud noise, the noise reduction rating is the most important thing to consider.
What but does it mean? What is a good noise reduction rating?
Noise reduction ratings (NRR) are measured in decibels (dB). This number tells you how much sound that particular ear protection product blocks out. You’ll find an NRR on earplugs and earmuffs, although the maximum NRR for both is different. The NRR should definitely be taken into consideration before you buy earplugs or earmuffs as it’s a great indicator of how strong the product is.
However, the NRR is the best case scenario when measured in a secure laboratory. The real-life amount of sound reduction could be much less than advertised. Even still, the NRR is important.
It’s considered that around 85 dB and above is when sound becomes excessive. Excessive sound could lead to hearing loss, depending on how long you’re exposed to it. But what does 85 dB sound like?
Some typical levels of sound include:
Fireworks – 140 dB Gunshots – 130 dB Rock concert – 120 dB Vacuum – 70 dB Normal conversation – 60 dB Quiet room or library – 40 dB Whisper – 30 dB Breathing – 10 dB
If you’re going to be exposed to noise at 85 dB and over for a period of time, it’s important to think about using hearing protectors to avoid any hearing loss. Once your hearing has been damaged, there’s no way to reverse it.
NRR for Earplugs
The highest possible noise reduction rating for earplugs is 33 dB. Typically, more expensive types of earplugs will cost more money, but will also have a higher NRR. Earplugs for sleeping are quite common, or for use when swimming or flying.
You’ll want to use earplugs when you need to protect your hearing but also have a device that is small and discreet. Earplugs also fully enter the ear canal, providing high-quality sound protection.
Earplugs come in a variety of materials, such as silicone and foam that go inside the ear, or wax or putty which are molded to the entrance of the ear. The type of material and fit can impact the noise reduction rating.
Howard Leight by Honeywell Laser Lite foam earplugs have an NRR of 32 dB. Another popular choice are the Mack’s Ultra Soft foam earplugs, also with a NRR of 32 dB.
Foam earplugs can have a high NRR because they really fill up your entire ear canal and drastically cut down sound. However, there are other earplug options that have a lower NRR but allows you to hear noise safely, such as high-fidelity earplugs for music. While these have a lower NRR, these types of earplugs let you enjoy music safely but still protect your hearing.
NRR for Earmuffs
The highest NRR for earmuffs is 31 dB, slightly less than earplugs. Earmuffs go over the top of both ears and are frequently used as ear protection for shooting. You can also get electronic earmuffs that amplify low-level noise such as environmental sounds or conversations. Then you don’t have to take them off to hear certain things. This is a great element when in situations like outdoor hunting, so you can hear twigs breaking or bird calls, while still protecting your hearing from the gunshots.
You wouldn’t want to use earmuff for activities like sleeping or swimming. For obvious reasons, their size and bulkiness can get in the way.
To give some context, popular hunting earmuffs like Walker’s Razor Slim Electronic Hearing Protection Muffs have an NRR of 23 dB. Another popular option like Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs have an NRR of 22 dB. Both brands are highly respected and both products are durable and effective.
Combining earplugs and earmuffs
You may find yourself in a situation that requires both earplugs and earmuffs, such as when shooting firearms at an indoor gun range. When you wear earplugs underneath earmuffs, the NRR is typically around 36 dB.
You do not add both NRR together.
Oftentimes we think about earplugs when we think about hobbies, such as attending a live music concert with extremely high sound levels. This situation would require earplugs to help protect your hearing from such high decibel levels of sound. But what about at work?
Occupational safety, both at a national-level and company-level, require certain precautions around high levels of sound and repeated exposure to noise. In the US, employers are “responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees” under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. If you’re in an environment that exposes you to loud noises, it’s vital that you understand the company’s safety procedures. It’s likely that you will need to wear hearing protection provided by the company.
Hearing Conservation Program
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration created the hearing conservation program in order to protect employees who are exposed to loud sounds.
If you’re working in an industry that exposes you to loud sounds over a period of time, it’s important to utilize hearing protection devices and ensure your employer monitors the noise exposure levels for your position. Hearing loss is avoidable, but once it happens, there is no way to reverse it.
What is ANSI S3.19-1974?
When searching for hearing protection, you might see mention of “ANSI S3.19-1974.”
Back in 1974, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) released a form of standardizing hearing protection. This is called: “ANSI S3.19-1974: Method for the Measurement of Real-Ear Protection of Hearing Protectors and Physical Attenuation of Earmuffs.”
This dictates the way that the noise reduction rating must be calculated, so some products will have “ANSI standards S3.19-1974 approved for hearing protection” in the product description.
The most current version of this standard is “ANSI/ASA S12.6-2016: Methods for Measuring the Real-Ear Attenuation of Hearing Protectors.” However, ANSI S3.19-1974 is still required for labeling of hearing protective devices.
HearStoppers is a blog dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of hearing protection. Many people don’t realise how easily it can be to lose your hearing. Keep your hearing alive with proper protection.