What Noise Levels are Sound Dangerous?

And how you can keep you and your family safe

We have talked about how sound can be damaging to your mental and physical health. Here, we define "dangerous" as damaging your ear hair cells, causing permanent hearing loss, even tinnitus or hyperacusis. 

You might be surprised. We are frequently exposed to high levels of sound today. 

It's not just headphones, highway traffic or that construction site by your office - blenders and coffee machines can cause hearing damage. There are also heaps of children toys that have been recorded at unsafe sound levels!

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Sound levels at Wellington clubs, bars, and even some restaurants have been measured to hit 85-100 decibels, waaay above safe noise levels. Rock concerts can hit 100-120 decibels. At a level of 110 decibels, hearing loss can occur after only two minutes of exposure.. and that damage is permanent.

Not-so-fun fact: Decibel meters set 75 meters away from bomb test sites peaked at 210 decibels. The sound alone is enough to kill a human being, so if the bomb doesn't kill you, the noise will.

Long periods of exposure to lower noise levels can also cause hearing impairment. Sound is measured on a logarithmic scale, so the rule of thumb is that you don't want to be exposed to more than:

85 decibels for more than 8 hours a day

88 decibels for more than 4 hours a day

91 decibels for more than 2 hours a day

...and so on.

We call this your Noise Dose, which assumes that you're spending the other 16 hours of your day, as well as weekends, in quieter conditions. 

​​This means that if you're operating a chainsaw (120 dB), your hearing could start to degrade after just 30 seconds, so don't take those earmuffs off, even for a “quick chat”!

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We've included a chart that shows what noise levels are permissible for specific lengths of time, before hearing loss starts to occur. 

If you're wondering what dB means and how to measure sound, check out the respective links ;)

Problem is, sound is seldom steady, at any given length of time. From the charts, we know that you don't want to be exposed to more than 110 decibels for even a minute. Your workplace should never expose you to sounds above 120 dB, and more than 140 decibels can cause you instantaneous hearing loss. So what does it mean when your local bar tells you that they cap their music at 120 decibels?

Get the hell out of there!

Well, not really. First take some time to applaud them (heaps of bars don't cap their sound at all and we've personally recorded sound levels frequently spiking at 135 dB). It does mean that you actually shouldn't stay for a whole song while sitting near the speakers. Or it could be that you're using earplugs to help protect your hearing. But it can be counter-intuitive to go to a gig and muffle the music using earplugs, while others complain that it's impossible to communicate with clients, coworkers, or hear warning signals while wearing earmuffs.

It's for this reason that we've looked all over the world for hearing protection that allows you to communicate and enjoy music at safe noise levels. The next time you're at a bar with live music, grab a pair of White Cat High-Fidelity Acoustic Filtered Earplugs (we recommend 20 dB to 27 dB attenuation, 10 dB or 15 dB if it's a noisy cafe). It means you'll bring the peaks down to 100 decibels, and your average sound levels down to safe noise levels while enjoying the music with crystal clarity. 

Keep Learning

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Back to: Measuring Sound

Why pay someone to measure your workplace noise when you can do it yourself.. for free!

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Next Topic: Hearing Conservation

Learn 3 simple steps you can take to keep hearing for life.

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Next Topic: The Law

What do New Zealand's laws say about noise?

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Next Topic: Personal Protection

Take control: Protect your mental and physical health