I used to have earplugs in my pockets when I worked in a factory, but those days are past (thank goodness). Now I just wear earphones and use music to drown out my coworkers. XD
Umpty-ump years ago, when I was an undergrad, I worked in a coat-hanger factory. There was no hearing protection and the machines were so loud, that I would have to put my ear on my radio's speaker in order to hear the music! I only worked there for about six weeks. A few months later, OSHA shut them down for all kinds of violations.
Years later, I started losing my low-frequency hearing (very unusual for a man). In the last couple of years, tinnitus has set in. I know that correlation is not causation, but I really wish I had known enough to even make my own paper earplugs.
FYI - I still have to work in noisy environments (telephone company central offices). I find that Bose Noise Cancelling headsets are AWESOME! Anything that is a constant background noise is eliminated. With the cell attachment, I can talk to my boss on the phone while being in the middle of the equipment racks, working a problem. They are not cheap (~$300US plus $50US for phone attachment), but are worth every penny. I am on my second set (the first one lasted 7 years)....
Sorry to hear about the tinnitus! I sometimes have hearing problems, but it's more like one of my ears will shut off rather than have a ringing or buzzing sound. It only lasts for a minute or so, but I always feel off balance when it happens. X[
You'd be surprised how loud the back room of a university kitchen can get with all the clattering of silverware and plates on stainless steel countertops, especially during the five minutes right before half the dining hall clears out to go to their next classes. But do they ever think of the people working in the dishroom when they all shove their plates at us at the same time? We're people too, you know...
Being a musician, ear plugs are a necessity, especially around louder drummers who have no idea how to not play at 11 all the time. -_-
When I was a little nugget I wore a hearing aid, and (unrelated) my school's fire alarm was incessantly loud. So fire drill meant turning my hearing aid off and hey! instant earplug.
I keep a couple extra pairs of earplugs, along with a dust mask, and a pair of nitrile gloves in a Ziploc bag, taped into my hardhat between the suspension webbing and the shell. They are out of the way, but there if I happen to need them on a field job.
Earplugs should be like chapsticks... one in every coat's pocket. Don't forget!