Photo credit: Michael Pedersen licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Popular Mechanics magazine was a favorite of mine when I was a boy, and it still is a respected publication. This recent article by Alex Rennie discusses using hearing protection when working with power tools, and makes specific recommendations.

Two caveats, one factual and the other commercial: First, the effective noise reduction in actual use is less than the OSHA-rated noise reduction rating (NRR), only 50% for earplugs and 25% for earmuff hearing protection devices. Second, there appears to be a bias towards 3M products, with the publisher possibly getting commissions if one orders project through links in the article. That’s in fine print almost at the very bottom of the webpage.

Despite that, I think the main thrust of the article–that if one is using power tools, one should always use hearing protection–is an important point to make.

I have some of the hearing protection devices mentioned. To me, hearing protection is like birth control. The best method for each individual is one that will be used without fail. The consequences of not using contraception or hearing protection even once can be permanent.

Most drugstores and certainly big box home improvement stores have displays of earplugs and other personal protective equipment. If you’re using any tool noisier than a screwdriver or a pair of pliers, even to hammer in one nail, you should use earplugs or ear muffs.

The temporary discomfort or ringing in the ears after even one loud hammer strike indicates that permanent auditory damage has occurred.