How loud is loud?
Examples of different machinery and activities and the average sound levels they produce. A guide to help you protect your hearing.
Your hearing can be damaged by sustained exposure to loud noise. But it can be difficult to know how loud a sound is and whether it can cause harm.
How is sound measured?
The intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB). The range weighted to the levels that human ears can pick up is referred to as dB(A).
The decibel system is based on what is called a logarithmic scale. This means that a sound level of 100dB contains twice the energy of a sound level of 97dB.
A rise of 10dB in sound level roughly means that the subjective loudness has doubled. So, a sound of 80dB is around twice as loud as a sound of 70dB, which is twice as loud as a sound of 60dB.
Are there rules about loud sounds?
If you work somewhere noisy, where the decibel level is regularly over 80dB you should be trained to understand the risks involved. In an environment where the volume is 85dB and above, hearing protection should be provided. This is the level at which noise becomes unsafe without the use of hearing protection.
In social environments, there are no rules to protect customers. At a gig or in a nightclub or bar you might see musicians and DJs wearing hearing protection and the bar staff may be wearing earplugs. But as a customer you won’t know how loud it is. It is up to you to protect yourself.
Similarly, sound levels in your home won’t come with a health warning. Sustained exposure can damage your hearing. Many common activities can reach dangerous levels of sound.
Decibel level and maximum exposure time
Here are some examples of average intensity of a sound made by different things and the maximum amount of time it is safe to be exposed to these each day, without needing hearing protection.
These are intended as a guide only. Different brands of washing machines or hair dryers for example, will produce different levels of sound.
|Decibel level||Source of sound||Length of time|
|15dB||Leaves rustling||Indefinite - safe level|
|30dB||A quiet room||Indefinite - safe level|
|40dB||A quiet library, birds calling, refrigerator hum||Indefinite - safe level|
|55dB||Normal conversation||Indefinite - safe level|
|60dB||Dishwasher||Indefinite - safe level|
|70dB||Car at 10 metres; vacuum cleaner; washing machine; shower, piano practice||Indefinite - safe level|
|80dB||Busy traffic at 10 metres; alarm clock; whistle; freight train at 15 metres||Indefinite - safe level|
|85dB||Kitchen blender; noisy restaurant;||8 hours|
|88dB||Forklift truck||4 hours|
|90dB||Power tools; lawnmower; kitchen blenders; hair dryers; Tube train; diesel truck||2 hours|
|100dB||Bulldozer; road drill at 1 metre; chain saw; jet ski; automatic hand dryer||15 minutes|
|103dB||MP3 player at full volume||7 minutes and 30 seconds|
|106dB||Motorbike; nightclub; bars||3 minutes and 45 seconds|
|110dB||Sporting events; car horns; symphony orchestra; leaf blower; barking in ear; riveting machine||1 minute and 42 seconds|
|115dB||Ambulance siren; live rock band||28 seconds|
|120dB||Loud car stereo; Amplified music at 2 metres; thunderclap; siren 1 metre; oxygen torch||7 seconds|
|130dB||Jet taking off at 100 metres||Less than 1 second|
|140dB||Rifle being fired at 1 metre||No safe time|
|150dB||Rock music peak||No safe time|
What can I do?
Once you are aware of sound levels, you can take steps to protect your hearing while doing the things you love.
If you work in a loud environment, it is your employer’s responsibility to assess noise levels and to provide hearing protection, but it is on you to wear it.
Away from work, the responsibility is on you. Earplugs are essential tools for preventing hearing loss and tinnitus in loud environments. Our guide to earplugs can help you choose the best option for you.