How Loud is Too Loud?

by Carol Morabito for ClearSounds

Does it sometimes seem like we are inundated with ambiguous advice from experts? The sun causes cancer—sun exposure has healing benefits; red wine and chocolate have healthy antioxidants—but don’t drink or eat too much; music stimulates the brain, calms us, and boots our mood—but keep the volume down or you’ll damage your ears.

What does that mean…keep the volume down? Most of us can imagine that a car with bass and music so loud it can register on the Richter Scale is probably not doing the driver’s ears any favors. And so we have adopted the 60/60 rule we’ve discussed before on this blog. Listen to music at no more than 60% of max volume and no more than 60% of the time. Seems pretty simple because this is a measurement that is within our control. But beyond managing music levels, how can we keep our ears safe? How loud is too loud? What other sounds besides music should we be cautious of?

Right now my entire street is under construction. From 6am until around 4pm every day, the workers are exposed to drills, jackhammers, cement blasters, and loud trucks. And surprisingly, I have only seen one worker wearing ear protection—notsurprisingly, it’s the guy over 40.

Follow these guidelines from the American Hearing Research Foundation to understand common sounds and how to protect your hearing by limiting exposure to them.

• Limit exposure to 90db sounds to 8 hours per day. These sounds would include lawn mowers, shop tools, and truck traffic.

• Limit exposure to 100db sounds to 2 hours per day. 100db sounds would include a snow mobile or a chainsaw.

• Limit exposure to 115db sounds to 15 minutes per day without protection. These sounds might include a rock concert, a car horn, or sand blasting.

• Avoid sounds of 140db or louder, such as a gun muzzle blast or jet engine, at all times unless hearing protection is worn.

Considering these guidelines, I would venture to say that every construction worker outside of my building is at risk for hearing loss—maybe not tomorrow—but sometime in the future, surely.

And I know the last thing you are wondering—how do you know how loud a sound it? Well, it’s easier than you would think. First of all, if you have to shout in order to communicate, it’s too loud. But beyond your own anecdotal experiences, there are scientific ways to determine the decibel level of your environment. You can download a decibel reader app for your smart phone, or if you work in a loud environment on a daily basis, you may want to consider purchasing a small and nifty device called a decibel (or sound level) reader. They can run anywhere from $20 to $200 and can be found easily online or even at Walmart.


Carol Morabito is a professional business writer and editor with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

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