Whether you're operating a leaf blower, driving a skid steer or working a jackhammer, you're probably in a dangerously loud environment. If you are, you need to include hearing protection as part of your daily routine.
When it comes to noise levels, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that workers shouldn't be exposed to sound levels above 85dB in an eight-hour workday to minimize noise-induced hearing loss. If you're exposed to more than 85dB for extended periods of time, you should use adequate hearing protection.
Here's a tip: If you can't hear a normal tone of voice from a distance of about three feet, noise probably exceeds safe levels and you should use hearing protection.
Traditionally, hearing protection has been passive, blocking out all sounds. You typically have had two choices: earplugs that fit into the outer ear canal, or earmuffs that fit over the outer ear so the entire ear is blocked. While these types of protection have been great for blocking out all sounds, they have also prevented you from hearing instructions or warnings called out by co-workers.