You wear safety glasses in the shop because seeing is an important skill. But hearing is pretty damn useful, too. Yet in all the home shops we’ve visited we almost never see hearing protection. Try this: every time you throw on a pair of safety goggles or prepare to use heavy equipment, take a second to consider if the intensity and duration of noise warrants additional safety gear. Even simple low-cost products will provide you with a measurable level of protection — and a few more years before “WHAT?” is your standard response to any query.
There are two main types of hearing protection devices: earplugs and earmuffs. Earplugs come in a wide variety of shapes and styles, from simple disposable foam plugs to reusable corded plugs with flaps. Earmuffs are available in many styles as well, from simple no-frills passive models, to FM radio active noise-cancellation muffs with push-to-hear buttons.
Pictured above is the Peltor H10A, also marketed by AOSafety as a pro-grade device. It’s quite comfortable, easily adjustable, and has a NRR (noise reduction rate) of 30 decibels. I tend to stay away from “economic” earmuffs since they’re usually only a few dollars cheaper — at the expense of comfort and durability.
AOSafety also makes some nice disposable foam earplugs. These plugs are easy to insert, make a tight seal, and are readily available almost everywhere. They carry an NRR rate of 32 db, though I’m a bit skeptical; it seems only logical that variances in ear canal geometries and insertion technique may result in slightly less real-world protection. Still, some protection is far better than none.
Although both of the aforementioned products are marketed by AOSafety, other big names such 3M and MSA Safety Works offer excellent hearing protection product lines as well. The main differences between products by the these brands are the shapes and styles of the devices. While some people swear by tapered earplugs such as those pictured above, others prefer MSA’s hexagonal foam plugs. If a product doesn’t fit you well, try another.
Street pricing for the Peltor H10A starts at about $15, and the disposable AOSafety earplugs go for about $2.50 for four pairs. I found the above-pictured 80 pair dispenser for less than $16 at Lowes — not a bad deal considering they’ll last a few years. Adn Amazon is currently offering the Peltor H10A for $17.66 with free standard shipping.