Why Protect your Ears?
Noise--too much and too loud--is the most common form of pollution in late 20th Century culture. More than being annoying, excessive noise can cause severe and permanent damage to your hearing. More than 10 million people suffer noise-induced hearing loss and another 20 million are regularly exposed to sound loud enough to cause damage. Some of that sound comes from your yard in the form of mowers, chipper/shredders and other power tools large and small.
Sound becomes dangerous when it reaches around 80 decibels (dB). Most yard and garden power equipment operates in the 80 to 105 dB range. Whether exposure is for short bursts or the time it takes to mow your lawn, you owe it to your hearing to protect your ears. Simple ear muffs, though warm, offer some protection. Ear protectors are better, and not as hot. Under extreme noise situations, maximum protection can be had with a combination of ear protectors and ear plugs, like the kind you can buy at a drug store.
,Choosing Ear Protection Devices
There are ear protector devices and ear plug devices on the market that will protect you from excessive sound. Stuffing cotton in your ears does not do the job.
Ear Protectors - Sometimes called ear muffs or hearing protectors, ear protectors resemble audio headphones. Two round, padded, sound insulated cups fit over the ears and are held in place by a band that fits over the top of the head. They are specifically designed to protect the delicate hearing mechanism of the ear from damage due to the excessive vibration caused by loud noise. Ear protectors should have an adjustable head band and flexible cups to ensure a good fit. Ear protectors will reduce noise levels from 15 to 30 decibels.
Ear protectors are rated for their noise reduction capacity. Most are rated between 15 and 30. Get the highest rating you can for maximum protection and don't sacrifice quality for price. Also look for labels indicating government approval, such as from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or ANSI (American National Standards Institute).
Ear Plugs – While not as reliable as high quality ear muffs, the foam ear plugs are comfortable, inexpensive, and serve the need for most home power equipment noise. They must be airtight to be effective. They can reduce the decibel load from 15 to 30 decibels. You can also go to an ear specialist and get custom made soft rubber plugs that fit your ear comfortably and are adequate for most home power equipment noises.
Ear protectors and ear plugs together will give you an additional 10-15 dB reduction. Neither will work well unless they fit snugly.
When to use ear protection
Any time you will be exposed to noise as loud as a school bus full of kids is the right time to use ear protectors. They should always be worn around lawn and garden power tools--mowers, gas-powered string trimmers, chipper/shredders, generators for hedge trimmers, rotary tillers and chain saws. Everyone within hearing range, not just the equipment operator, should wear a pair.
When wearing ear protectors, stay alert. You'll need to use your eyes to know if someone is trying to signal you.
Caring for your ear protection devices
Clean ear protectors after each use with a non-abrasive cloth and store in a clean, dry place. Additional manufacturer's directions will be on the package. Replace ear plugs, which are very inexpensive, as soon as they show any signs of wear.
NoiseBusters Ear Protectors
I have tried to be smart and have worn a pair of passive ear-protecting muffs whenever using any power tool noisier than a power drill. That included lawn mower, shredder, chainsaw, leaf vacuum and leaf blower. Last winter, I learned that I was still not protecting my hearing sufficiently to avoid damage from extended use (more than 30 minutes) of any of those machines. This time I did not feel stupid, just ignorant.
This past season, I have been using a pair of NoiseBuster safety earmuffs (www.noisebuster.net) that combine the passive protection of the past with new Active Noise Reduction technology (ANR). These ear protectors have a battery in them that powers a receiver, microphone, and speaker inside the ear cup of the device.
What is Active Noise Reduction (ANR)?
ANR system uses a microphone inside the ear cup (1) to listen to noise (2) coming into the ear.
Using electronics (3) , the system takes that information and uses it to create a noise wave that is identical to, but directly opposite of, the one coming into the ear.
The "anti-noise" wave is output through a speaker (4) , also located in the ear cup. When the two waves (the noise wave and the anti-noise wave) m
So now when I'm riding my lawn tractor, the noise of the tractor is greatly reduced, preventing any more damage to my hearing.
What is really cool is that this technology works primarily at suppressing the lower sound frequencies, so you can still hear the words when someone speaks to you. On top of all that, there is a plug in the earmuff for hooking up my iPod. Now, when I'm doing chores with power tools, I can listen to my favorite rock and roll music, which, come to think of it, might have years ago also contributed to my hearing loss.
By the way, this wonderful gadget works wonders for listening to music on an airplane. The safety muffs cost about $150, but Pro Tech Communications also sells a cheaper model specifically for you frequent flyers.