Most woodworkers will take it for granted to wear eye protection, but hearing loss should be a major concern due to the high decibel levels that woodworking machinery produce. Recent figures (New York) by OSHA and the Workers Compensation Board reported that hearing loss is the second highest cause of all employee injury claims (wrist injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome was the highest).
I won't to go into the details of which machines make the loudest noises, we all know that exposure to the noise levels of woodworking equipment is dangerous to our long term hearing.
But did you know that a constant low level noise (produced by the humming of an orbital sander for example) over a long term period can cause as much hearing damage as a very loud noise of short duration.
Occupation hearing loss is very easily preventable. Wearing hearing protection, whether it be ear muffs, or earplugs is a simple solution to combating the affects of long term hearing loss.
These products are inexpensive, and simple to put on and remove. There is no excuse not to protect your hearing!
There a a few different products that you can use to protect your hearing; disposable ear buds, or ear muffs. It may come down to preference for you. Some people find earmuffs bulky, or uncomfortable to have on your head all the time, and others don't like the ear buds pressing in their ears.
Choose the equipment that you are most comfortable with, to encourage its use. There are even products that combine glasses and earmuffs together for those who tend to 'misplace' things easily.
Find a product that has a rating of at least 20 decibels (dB). With ear muffs, get a pair with a good padded, not plastic, headband. Remember to change the foam at least once a year as it will loose its noise reducing effectiveness over time.
One word of advice, I recommend to stay away from the radio versions of earmuffs. Even though the point of earmuffs is to block out noise, you can still hear the 'humm' of a machine with them on. Sometimes, you will notice a different sound coming from a machine, and you will know that something is wrong and you should stop working.
If you have music on, you most likely will not have this extra potential warning sign. In addition, the music may act as a distraction to you. Your attention should be focused on your task, and one less possible distraction is a good thing when working with large spinning blades.