How loud? How long?
Unwanted noise is one of the most common environmental problems that is experienced by almost everyone daily. Throughout human history, noise has been recognized as a nuisance and, in some cases, an environmental hazard. To answer the question “How loud is too loud for kids”, we will start by looking at the regulations.
In Britain, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has clear guidelines for safe sound levels in the workplace. Sound is measured in Decibels and the guidance states that if employees are exposed to 85 Decibels (or more) on average every working day, they are regarded as being at risk of what is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The HSE state that all employees in this situation must be offered hearing protection.
That’s just the starting point. Now we need to know if 85 Decibels is a safe listening level for kids. Unfortunately, this is a bit more difficult than it sounds because the only regulations that we have are for adults in the workplace. There are no regulations for the young ears of growing children. To answer our question, we must delve a little deeper. The guidance comes in two parts, loudness (decibels or dbA) and duration.
Duration is easy to measure, but how loud is 85 Decibels? Well, it is about the noise level of a domestic food mixer. If 85 Decibels is safe for adults, you might have thought that a few Decibels here or there wouldn’t make much of a difference. That is where you would be wrong. For every 3 Decibels increase in sound, safe listening time halves. In other words, if the noise increases from 85 to 88 Decibels (the sound of a hair dryer), the safe daily exposure reduces to 4 hours. You can see the effects of loudness and duration on our Decibel Chart
So far, so good.
To test the amount of noise pollution that people might be exposed to on a normal day, we decided to measure sound levels on a typical commuter journey. We chose London, but our experiment could have taken place in any town or city. We used a free smartphone app to measure the sounds that we encountered.
Amazingly, we recorded levels of up to 97 Decibels on our 30-minute walk to the station. This is 8 times louder than the 85 Decibels, HSE workplace guideline. Our train journey also peaked at 97 Decibels. In fact, by the time that we had arrived at our destination, we had used up all our daily safe exposure time and we still had a full working day ahead of us as well as the reverse journey home. No wonder more and more people are noticing they have hearing loss!
Workplace versus Recreational noise
Noise is noise. You can’t distinguish between workplace noise, environmental noise, and recreational noise.
It is an indisputable fact that prolonged exposure to loud noise has the potential to cause permanent irreversible damage to our hearing. Take a typical concert or gig where noise levels are 110-120 Decibels. If you are not wearing suitable hearing protection, safe listening time is just a matter of seconds.
Hearing Ambassadors believe that to gain the maximum benefit for lifelong good listening, people should start when they are young. That’s why we set up our Sound Warriors project.
In our quest to discover safe listening levels for kids, we found a fascinating article published by the World Health Organisation in 2018. They reviewed all the available studies at that time and although it is a bit technical, it is incredibly helpful.
In the above article, The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that the best way of protecting under 18s would be to adopt not 85 but a 75 Decibel limit, some 8 times quieter than the adult limit. They are concerned that recreational noise is much more difficult to control than occupational noise because social pressures result in young adults actively seeking out recreational environments or activities that have hazardous levels of noise such as bars, discos, gyms, sporting events, personal listening devices and gaming machines.
Things you can do
Grown-ups need to understand what is at stake here because children do not have the autonomy to make health decisions and young adults are likely to engage in behaviour that increases their exposure to high levels of noise.
It is not all doom and gloom, because although its irreversible, noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable. Here are several practical ideas from the WHO which will reduce a child’s exposure to recreational noise.
- Use noise-reducing or noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds when using personal listening devices.
- Limit participation in sporting events, concerts, and other activities where noise levels are likely to be excessively high and wear hearing protection regardless of the duration of exposure.
- Utilize smart devices to measure noise exposure of venues and activities to determine if noise exceeds 80 dBA, and adjust behaviours and exposure as necessary.
If you would like to know more about safe listening for children and young people, please email us via our contact form
In this article, we used the following images from Unsplash.com
Girl with headphones – katie-gerrard-sSHzsuYBc9U-unsplash
Watch – luke-chesser-rCOWMC8qf8A-unsplash.jpg
London Street – abi-ismail-fzpsFoatUUo-unsplash