How to Protect Your Hearing on Construction Sites

What’s new: 14% of construction workers develop hearing loss on the jobsite.

Why it matters: even mild hearing loss could double your risk of dementia.


What causes hearing loss?

Noise levels above 85 decibels (ex. an idling motorcycle) can damage your hearing. 

The longer you’re exposed to noises at or above 85 decibels, the greater the risk of hearing damage. Extended exposure causes even more damage. 

The constantly loud atmosphere of a construction site puts you at greater risk for hearing loss. 


What are the results of hearing loss?

Hearing loss is frustrating for people who have it, and for their loved ones.

It’s also expensive. Even if you have health insurance, hearing aids can put you under serious financial strain. 


And there’s an even greater risk.

In a hearing loss study from Johns Hopkins, Dr. Frank Lin found that mild hearing loss may double the risk of dementia.

In this study, researchers found that people with severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia than someone with no hearing loss


There are a couple of reasons why hearing loss may contribute to dementia

  • Hearing loss can lead to social isolation. Social engagement is a huge part of remaining intellectually stimulated. 
  • Your brain may have to work harder to process sound. If your brain is straining to hear and fill in gaps, it can come at the expense of your memory systems. 
  • You may not be able to pick up subtle sounds that help with balance. Your hearing helps you orient yourself in your environment. Without being able to hear these cues, your brain can lose this ability. 


How can you protect your hearing in construction?

Like a lot of construction site safety, you may have to take hearing protection into your own hands. It’s an unfortunate reality: your jobsite probably won’t provide hearing protection or invest in quieter machinery. 

If you are a decision-maker on your jobsite, consider renting or purchasing electric equipment (rather than gas- or diesel-powered). It’s usually quieter and will put less strain on everyone’s ears. 


The easiest way to protect your hearing is to invest in hearing protection. Both earplugs and earmuffs can reduce the sound level by up to 34 decibels when worn correctly. 

Since you’re exposed to unsafe noise levels at work, be sure to limit unsafe noise levels outside of work.

  • If you are going to be in a loud environment (like a concert, restaurant, club, movie theater, etc.), make sure you wear hearing protection there as well. 
  • Reduce the volume of your TV and turn on captions. 
  • Turn down your headphones when you listen to music or talk on the phone.


What type of hearing protection should you look for in construction?

Did you know Hugg & Hall’s Parts team sells ANSI-rated hearing protection? Check out section 2.09 of this catalog: Safety Equipment.


Earplugs and earmuffs are your best option. Earplugs typically offer better protection than earmuffs (since they sit in the ear canal instead of over the ear). They’re also easily compatible with other types of PPE.

Don’t rule out earmuffs, though. If your earmuffs meet ANSI requirements, they’ll have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 30-34. Some earmuffs can even attach to a hard hat, making them compatible with your PPE.

The highest NRR for earplugs and earmuffs is 33-34. Your best bet, when you’re around equipment above 120 decibels, is to wear both earmuffs and earplugs.


Unfortunately, even highly rated NRR products aren’t going to completely protect your hearing in very loud environments. If you’re around a 130-decibel jackhammer, you’re still going to be above the threshold for hearing damage. That’s why it’s so important to minimize your exposure to loud noises outside of work. 

Even though you may not be completely protected, it’s still important to wear hearing protection. Damage gets exponentially worse at louder levels of noise, so you’ll deal with less hearing damage if you wear earplugs or earmuffs. 

The cheapest effective earplugs start around $25 (at time of publishing). It’s up to you to decide what’s best for you. 


Foam earplugs 

If you’re going with foam earplugs, make sure you’re looking for a high NRR. Standard foam earplugs only have an NRR of around 20. Certain brands, like SparkPlugs, have an NRR of 30+. 


      • Budget-friendly
      • Disposable
      • Does not require charging


      • Must check brand for NRR rating
      • Must buy in bulk 
      • Not a reusable or sustainable product



Earmuffs offer over-the-ear protection. The best earmuffs offer an NRR of 34. 


      • Won’t cause ear canal fatigue 
      • Higher NRR than many earplugs


      • Can be difficult to use with other PPE (unless you purchase earmuffs compatible with a hard hat) 
      • May cause headaches from pressing on the ears and head


Moldable earplugs

Most moldable earplugs have an NRR of 25-30 decibels. 


      • Budget-friendly
      • Does not require charging
      • Molds to fit your ears, limiting ear canal fatigue


      • Insufficient NRR for protection against sounds at the top end of the spectrum


Passive noise-cancelling earplugs

These earplugs aren’t moldable, but typically have layers of dense, sound-absorbing material. You can expect these earplugs to have an NRR of about 33 decibels.


      • Budget-friendly 
      • Do not require charging 


      • Won’t offer as high an NRR as active noise-cancelling earplugs
      • Must achieve a proper seal for them to work properly, so you’ll have to find the right size and fit


Active noise-cancelling earplugs and earmuffs

These earplugs and earmuffs don’t just block noise. They have microphones that pick up ambient sounds and internal processors that generate sound waves of the opposite phase. Most will even suppress loud impact noise to a safe level (82 decibels). 

The real draw of active noise-cancelling technology is that it won’t suppress important communication, like alarms or voices. It “listens” to the noise around you and cuts out the loudest sounds, protecting your hearing without cutting you off from the world. 

Most noise-cancelling earplugs have an NRR of 33-34, and most noise-cancelling earmuffs have an NRR of 30-32. 


      • Easy to hear what’s happening in your environment 
      • Don’t need to be removed for you to communicate with others


      • Expensive
      • Require charging



  • Protecting your hearing can minimize your risk of dementia. 
  • Wearing ear protection is the easiest way to protect your hearing. 
  • Even the best earplugs won’t completely protect you from very loud noises. It’s important to limit your time in loud environments. 
  • You can help protect your hearing by minimizing noise outside of the job. 

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Hugg & Hall Equipment Company is a comprehensive equipment provider offering services and expertise in the rental, sales, parts and service markets. The company offers a wide variety of equipment options for rent and purchase, including: material handling equipment (forklifts, pallet jacks, etc.), heavy equipment, mobile elevating work platforms (boom lifts, scissor lifts), air compressors, generators and more. Hugg & Hall Equipment Company offers industry-leading equipment brands for purchase or rental, like: Toyota, Bobcat, Crown, Taylor, Doosan, JLG and others. With value-added services and a focus on their customers, Hugg & Hall Equipment Company is the one-stop shop for every construction and industrial equipment need.