You may not think of noise as a danger, but if you work in a wood shop it can be a serious problem. In fact, noise is one of the most common workplace hazards.
Two kinds of noise can harm your hearing:
1. A noise that is too loud for your ear to handle. An example is a loud impulse noise, like an explosion.
2. Loud continuous noises of different loudness levels (like what is generated in a wood shop) over an extended period of time.
How hearing loss happens
The microscopic hair cells inside your ear can be damaged or broken from exposure to noise vibrations. If enough of these hair cells become damaged, the result is permanent hearing loss.
How loud is too loud?
The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels, symbolized as dB. The softest sound that a person can hear is about 1 decibel (or 1 dB). A whispered voice is about 20 decibels (20 dB). If a sound reaches 85 dB or stronger it can begin to cause permanent hearing damage.
Compare the intensity of some sounds you are familiar with to sounds made by certain wood working tools you will find in the shop.
How can you protect yourself?
There are two ways to try to protect your hearing when working with loud equipment:
- controlling the noise at the source by using equipment designed to be more quiet or by adding shields around the loudest pieces of equipment in the shop to help absorb or block the noise.
- if new equipment or the use of shields is not possible or doesn't reduce the noise enough, a second method is to wear personal hearing protection equipment. The goal of hearing protection equipment is to reduce your exposure to harmful noise, while still allowing you to hear machine warnings and voices.
These are made of light and comfortable material that can fit into the ear itself. They range from
disposable foam cylinders to customized plugs that are molded to fit your own ear.
How to insert foam earplugs
If Foam earplugs are available in your shop - get a pair and try putting them in by following these steps.
With both hands roll the round side of the plug between your thumb and finger. Slowly roll and compress the plug into a thin cylinder with no creases or folds in it.
Once the earplug is compressed, with your opposite hand pull the outer ear out and up. Now insert the compressed plug into your ear canal as far as is comfortable for you. You don’t want to go too far.
With your fingertip, gently hold the plug in place until it begins to expand and block the noise.
When finished working, remove the plugs from your ear. If you are going to use the plugs again, keep them clean by washing them in mild soap and rinsing them thoroughly in water. If they change color or shape after being washed throw them away and use a new pair of plugs.
These are cushioned and cupped ear coverings attached to a headband. Earmuffs come in a wide variety of sizes and kinds, each made specifically for certain noise levels and work environments.
In areas with extreme levels of noise, it may be necessary to wear both earplugs and earmuffs at the same time.
When wearing earmuffs, be sure you have a perfect seal between the skin around your ears and the earmuff cushion. Hair, jewelry (like earrings) and glasses can interfere with forming this tight seal.