What is O.S.H.A. And How it Relates to Sound Levels

O.S.H.A., (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), was created to make sure that employers keep a safe working environment for their employees. This federal law applies to all private employers, regardless of company size. Also, many states have their own OSHA type laws, which are more strict than the federal OSHA. OSHA states that sound levels should not exceed 85/90 dB SPL (decibels of sound pressure level) for no longer than 8 hours. Levels higher than that would require the exposed person to wear hearing protection.

Here is a typical breakdown of OSHA guidelines for maximum time exposure for potential hearing loss and/or permanent damage. (Regulation # 1910.95 – Occupational Noise Exposure)

90 dB SPL – 8 hours
95 dB SPL – 4 hours
100 dB SPL – 2 hours
105 dB SPL – 1 hour
110 dB SPL – 30 mins.
115 dB SPL – 15 mins.
115 dB and higher – 0 mins. – (Pain Threshold) – In other words, instant permanent hearing damage.

However, these figures and regulations may be controlled and enforced in a, let’s say, working factory setting. But unfortunately, these regulatory standards rarely pertain to live music sound levels because the listening audience member has no control of the volume being generated. Current law regarding concert sound levels, realistically speaking , cannot be enforced. Unless there is an OSHA representative always standing next to the front-of-house soundperson with a sound pressure level meter, enforcement will never happen. The loud events themselves occur within such a short time frame, usually within 2 hours, at peaks reaching 125-135 dB, unprotected hearing is significantly damaged forever before it is even suspected. An individual’s ears can begin to ring during the event and ring loudly up to 12-16 hours later making later communication and listening quite difficult. This is typically related to Rock and Pop music shows. Believe it or not, unamplified acoustically projected classical music concerts can, and usually do, exceed volume levels of that produced by a screaming P.A. system during a rock show. Another interesting fact is that when you are in an enclosed listening environment, there is no way to escape the direct and reflected sounds. At an outdoor event, you can at least escape the direct line-of-fire of the sound by getting up and moving to a safer distance.

I, myself as a professional live sound engineer suffer from permanent hearing loss in my right ear accompanied by an extremely loud ringing(tinnitus)24/7, day and night. This can happen when the delicate hearing cells, or tiny hairs in the inner-ear become completely destroyed from being battered night after night. Those hairs, by the way, NEVER grow back. And, the auditory nerve which transmits sound to the brain stops working forever, I didn’t realize this fact as a young soundman, I didn’t think to use appropriate earplugs. However, miraculously, my left ear/hearing has remained completely intact.

Here’s something to think about. Statistically speaking, most individuals before they reach 30 years old, especially those who attend live music events, will suffer dramatic hearing damage and/or loss completely unaware of the lifelong consequences. The result is catastrophic. Imagine not being able to distinguish crucial speech frequencies, always having to ask someone to repeat themselves contantly while engaging in coversation (your spouse, children, friends and the frustration caused them), and being annoyed by a persistent roaring,buzzing, clicking and ringing inside your head especially in an ambient, noisy environment? Depending on your personal tolerance, this could quite possibly bring you to the brink of insanity and ruin your quality of life. While this is not a pleasant thought, assistive listening devices are free from any state but the process is tedious and nerve-racking. Getting to that point of need is also unnecessary if you take care of your ears.

So, having read this, please, please consider my learned advice… PROTECT YOUR HEARING before it is too late! You will be SO glad you did.

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