What Decibel Level Should Ear Protection Be Worn?

When it comes to loud noises, it’s important to take precautions to protect your ears. This is especially true for people who work in noisy environments, attend concerts frequently, or operate heavy machinery. But what decibel level should ear protection be worn at? In this article, we’ll explore the recommended decibel levels for ear protection and what types of ear protection are best suited for different situations.

Understanding Decibels

The concept of measuring sound in decibels was first introduced in the 1920s. A decibel is a unit that measures the intensity of sound. The decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that a sound that is 10 times more intense than another sound is measured as being 10 decibels higher. For example, a sound that is 70 decibels is 10 times more intense than a sound that is 60 decibels.

The Danger Zone

Research suggests that exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can cause hearing damage. The longer the exposure time, the greater the risk of damage. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a limit of 85 decibels for an eight-hour workday. For every increase of three decibels, the safe exposure time is cut in half. This means that exposure to 88 decibels is safe for four hours, 91 decibels for two hours, and so on.

The Importance of Protection

It is crucial to wear ear protection when in environments where the noise level exceeds 85 decibels. This includes workplaces such as construction sites, factories, and music venues. It is also important to wear ear protection when using power tools, lawn mowers, and other loud machinery. Failure to protect your ears can result in permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.

Choosing the Right Ear Protection


Earplugs are a popular form of ear protection. They are small and easy to carry around, making them convenient for use in a variety of settings. They come in a range of materials, including foam, silicone, and wax. Foam earplugs are the most common and are designed to be inserted into the ear canal. They are effective at reducing noise levels but can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods.


Earmuffs are another option for ear protection. They are designed to fit over the ears and provide a seal that reduces noise levels. Earmuffs are more comfortable to wear for extended periods than earplugs but can be bulky and heavy.

Custom Ear Protection

Custom ear protection is the most effective form of ear protection as it is tailored to the individual’s ear canal. This type of protection is made by taking an impression of the ear canal and is designed to fit snugly, providing maximum protection. Custom ear protection can be expensive but is a worthwhile investment for individuals who are regularly exposed to loud noises.

FAQs – What Decibel Level Should Ear Protection be Worn?

What is a decibel and how does it affect hearing?

A decibel is a measure of sound intensity. It is a logarithmic scale that describes the ratio between two sound pressure levels. The human ear can detect sounds from roughly 0 to 140 decibels. However, long-term exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can cause hearing damage.

At what decibel level should ear protection be worn?

Ear protection should be worn when exposed to sounds above 85 decibels for an extended period of time. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that workers exposed to sounds at or above 85 decibels should wear hearing protection. Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a maximum exposure limit to noise of 85 decibels for eight hours per day.

What are some examples of sounds that are above 85 decibels?

Some examples of sounds that are above 85 decibels include lawnmowers, blenders, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles, and loud music. Concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment venues can also produce sounds above 85 decibels.

What are some types of ear protection that can be worn?

Earplugs and earmuffs are common types of ear protection that can be worn. Earplugs are inserted into the ear canal, while earmuffs cover the entire ear. Both can be effective in reducing noise exposure when used correctly. It is important to choose the correct type of ear protection based on individual needs, job requirements, and personal preferences.

Can ear protection be worn too often?

While wearing ear protection is important in high noise environments, it is also important to give the ears a break from prolonged use. Extended use of ear protection can cause discomfort, irritation, and even infection in some cases. It is recommended to take short breaks from ear protection when possible and follow proper hygiene practices when using earplugs or earmuffs.