According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hearing protection should be used when the noise level exceeds 85dB in the workplace. But remember, both “work” noise and “play” noise can damage your hearing, depending on the level and duration of the noise. For noise exposure in any environment, here’s a rule of thumb for determining a safe listening level: If you need to raise your voice to carry on a conversation at a distance of approximately 3 feet, you should be using hearing protection. The goal of earplugs and earmuffs is not to eliminate the noise, but to reduce it to a safe level. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and use the hearing protection.