Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Noise is any unwanted sound.   It can interfere with communication and limit your ability to socialise and tune into friends. Sometimes noise can render vital safety signals inaudible causing accidents.   Even quite modestly loud sounds can prevent us from just enjoying the natural environment.
Sound which is too loud for too long will eventually affect your hearing. Loud sound can also cause ringing in the ears, affect balance and may increasingly isolate people from their friends and family.

This depends on the loudness of the sound, how long you are exposed and to some extent how impulsive the sound is.   Sound starts becoming hazardous around 80 decibels. You can do a rough sound level check with a “sound level meter app” which can be downloaded onto your mobile phone or tablet. The following decibel chart provides approximate sound levels of some common sounds.

DECIBEL CHARTdecibel chart

The decibel chart shows many sounds commonly experienced in the home, at work or in recreational activities which can be hazardous.   How hazardous depends on how long you are exposed.  85 decibels for eight hours is the current exposure standard in Australia. This is the same exposure as 88 decibels for four hours or 91 decibels for two hours. However sounds above 140 decibels are dangerous for any exposure.

Noise induced hearing loss can result from noise exposure at home, at work and at play. However most noise induced hearing loss, by far, is caused at work.

Construction, Transport, Mining, Agriculture and Defence are industries where noise induced hearing loss is common. Those who work in Entertainment (musicians, hospitality and other workers) can also be exposed to high levels of noise.
Occupational health and safety legislation in Australia regulates noise in industry.   Action to control noise and protect hearing must be taken by employers when noise levels exceed 85 decibels averaged over a working day and for noise levels above 140 decibels for any time. This must be measured at the worker’s ear, without hearing protection devices.

When hazardous noise levels cannot be reduced to safe levels then a hearing protection program must be provided to employees working in noise.

Some simple tips include:
1. Talk with your supervisor and health and safety representative about noise assessment, cutting down noise levels and audiometric screening

2. Always wear hearing protection when needed.
Further information on noise and hearing conservation at work can be found at WorkSafe Victoria:

Many appliances produce hazardous noise levels – such as:

  • Garden tools – for example – chainsaws, mowers, blowers, and shredders
  • Workshop tools  – for example – grinders, power saws and hammers; and
  • Indoor Appliances such as vacuum cleaners; and
  • Activities at Home – for example – home renovations

Consumer and environmental laws in Victoria offer some protection to consumers but ultimately the main safety messages come down to what you can do in the home.

Some simple tips include:
1.   Buy quiet.   Check the noise level ratings on noisy products before you buy.
2.   Find the quietest way. Screws and glues are quieter than nails. Why blow leaves away at all and sweeping is a good approach.
3. Wear hearing protection always for noisy activities.

Guns, vehicles and music are among the main sources of leisure activities dangerous for hearing.   High calibre firearms can produce up to 170 decibels and, at that level, ear muffs only offer partial protection. Motor bikes, and modified cars can cause hearing damage.
Venue music, personal listening devices, car radios can be hazardous.

Some simple tips include:
1.   Control the activity music venues are required to keep music levels safe. Maintain vehicle engines and exhausts. Avoid firearm exposure.
2.   Set personal listening devices to safe levels.
3.   Always wear hearing protection when exposed to noisy activity.

If you want to check how hazardous your exposure to noise is or you want to see how well you hear in background noise, visit HEARSmart/National Acoustic Laboratories

Know Your Noise website: