When the Volume is at Eleven

It’s a Saturday night at your local church hall and the much anticipated music group has set up and is playing with gusto some of the songs that you know so well.

The kids are having a good time too as the music fills the room. The following day you’re on a plane headed to your next work commitment and once you’re in the sky you pop in your earphones to drown out the engine noise and listen to your favourite tunes. You find yourself in the country’s busiest city and after a restless night in a hotel located right next to the main highway, your first appointment of the day is an inspection of a factory and every machine seems to be in full swing.

Every day our ears are bombarded with all manner of sounds, so it should come as no surprise to learn that anyone exposed to high levels of sound for long periods of time may experience temporary or even permanent loss of hearing. Long-term exposure to loud noise can contribute to a stress response and may have the potential to cause psychological harm if not managed appropriately. Your ears can in fact sustain quite loud sounds in short bursts but since this risk to your hearing is both a function of the volume level and the length of time you are exposed to it, the key is to manage a lower sustainable volume level to protect against hearing impairment.

Protecting Audiences

Anywhere that there is amplified sound it is important to monitor the decibel levels to ensure the comfort and enjoyment of the audience. Short bursts of loud sound are often part of live performances and can add to the excitement but the aim should be for an even sound level that is sustainable over the performance time. It is difficult to be prescriptive as every venue’s sound absorption and reflection dynamics is different so obtaining the advice of an experienced sound technician or engineer is recommended.

Protecting Workers

Do you manage a laboratory or factory? Do you work in a noisy environment where you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone no more than a metre from you? It could be worthwhile conducting a risk assessment and putting in place control measures to protect the hearing of those on site. If you’re not sure how to do that, we recommend obtaining your state or country’s Code of Practice for Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work.

Protecting Yourself

According to a 2006 study, “listening to music at full volume through an iPod for more than five minutes a day using stock earphones can increase the risk of hearing loss in a typical person.” The study also concluded that, “individuals can safely listen to iPods for 90 minutes a day with the supplied earphones if the volume is at 80 percent of maximum levels without greatly increasing the risk of hearing loss.” However, the researchers noted that some people have more sensitive ears than others and it is possible they could damage their hearing even following the guidelines.

Ironically, many people use iPods and similar devices to block out OTHER noise, and in doing so, they are exposing their ears to more dangerous levels of sound. Many MP3 players have peak output levels of 100–125 dBA, which is well into the hazardous volume range. Something worth keeping in mind next time you’re travelling.

So whether it’s a musical item being performed during a church service or a tour of the factory floor we need to protect the hearing of our people. Download and print our one-page resource: Protecting the Hearing of Church Workers, Volunteers and Audiences.