Anyone who has ever attended a rock concert knows the repercussions of all that loud music – the hoarse voice from, among other things, shouting over the loud music, and the requisite ringing in the ears the next day. But a new study from the University of Toronto has looked into the feasibility of changing the latter, by determining whether earplugs would be effective at reducing the “uncomfortable” noise levels found at concerts.
The study, published in the January/February issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health, sought not to determine the effectiveness of earplugs, a form of personal protective equipment (PPE), but to determine whether or not concert goers would use earplugs if they were made available free of charge at concerts.
While researchers found that nearly three-quarters of the respondents, all rock-concert attendees, believed that noise levels at concerts were probably damaging their hearing, only 40 percent of respondents said they would be willing to wear the free earplugs to protect their hearing. Although that number may seem dismal, researchers found it optimistic – currently only three percent of the survey’s respondents said they “always” wore earplugs.
Researchers recommended two methods of getting concert-goers to adopt the use of earplugs: providing free earplugs and providing education in the form of posters about the availability of the earplugs and the importance of protecting one’s hearing at rock concerts.
But, as ergonomists and other safety and health professionals have long known, merely giving a person the tools to help him or her reduce exposure to risks isn’t always sufficient to convince a worker to adopt a desired behavior (see “Effecting Change: Getting Workers to Adopt the Right Behavior.” The Ergonomics ReportTM. January 26, 2005). While education and training can help, engineering the environment to reduce the risks is often seen as a preferable course of action; researchers in the earplug study, however, did not question participants on their opinion of limiting noise levels at concerts.
The study’s researchers said that repeated exposure to noises at concert levels, deemed “uncomfortable” for anyone – worker, musician, or concert-attendee – had the potential to cause short-term hearing loss or even permanent hearing dysfunction. Canadian regulations vary by municipality, but in general limit employee exposure to noise in the workplace to an average of 85 to 90 decibels – lower than that of a rock concert -- over the course of an 8-hour day to help limit noise-related hearing loss.
In the United States, the League of the Hard of Hearing estimates that noise levels at concerts hover between 110 and 120 decibels, the equivalent of a power saw, leaf blower, chain saw, pneumatic drill or ambulance siren. The league also notes that NIOSH recommends exposure to noise at those levels not exceed one minute 29 seconds.
Source: Canadian Journal of Public Health; League of the Hard of Hearing