by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Those who follow my blog posts may recall that I’ve spent much of the pandemic lockdown doing various home repair projects at our house and at my older in-laws’ house. Projects have included restoring a large trellis shade structure, replacing door frames, snaking out clogged outdoor area drains, replacing a ventilation fan, removing old carpet and installing new flooring in two walk-in closets and one small room, making four large planter boxes, replacing several outdoor GFCI outlets involving chipping away stucco, and several painting projects.

Among the power tools I have used are corded and battery powered drills and drivers, saber saws, a multitool, circular saws, a sliding compound miter saw, corded and battery powered reciprocating saws, and small and large shop vacuums. Hand tools can also be noisy. I’ve used hammers of various types, chisels, pry bars, hand saws, clamps, pliers, and screwdrivers.

Before I became a noise activist and learned about the dangers of noise for hearing, I just ignored the momentary discomfort and temporary muffling of sound that came from drilling a hole, cutting a piece of wood, or hammering in a nail. Now, if I’m using any power tool, or any hand tool louder than a screwdriver or pliers, I insert my earplugs.

I prefer corded plastic earplugs which I loop around my neck when not actually using a tool, just to keep them handy. And I recommend you do the same.

One of my frustrations in trying to educate the public about the dangers of noise has been that the instruction manuals for the power tools often mention wearing eye protection, but almost never mention hearing protection. I have written to two power tool manufacturers about this, but never got a reply.

This article in Heating Ventilation & Plumbing from the UK appears to be more of a promotion for one manufacturer’s tool line–something we would generally avoid sharing with others–but importantly, it is the first article I’ve seen that mentions power tool noise as a safety problem.

I am quoting the short paragraph on noise from the article in its entirety, because it’s exactly what I would have written:

Noise is part of everyday life, but loud noise like that produced by power tools can permanently damage hearing. To minimise exposure, ear protection must be worn correctly and whenever noisy work is undertaken. Always look to control the noise at the source by carefully considering the equipment being used as some machines will produce lower noise levels than others.

You only have two ears. Use hearing protection now to avoid hearing aids later.