Occupational noise is commonly considered in environments such as manufacturing and construction industries but tends to be a forgotten issue for musicians who often regard high sound levels as essential elements to their career. Because hearing sensitivity is central to optimize any musician’s career, noise-induced hearing loss is an occupational hazard. Protecting musicians from harmful noise is unique compared to other types of hearing protection strategies because detecting specific frequencies and characteristics of the noise is an essential part of their profession. As opposed to other industries who attempt to minimize the noise source, musicians require noise that is sufficiently loud enough to be heard from every member in the audience. Is there a solution that both protects the musician from harmful noise exposure without compromising the ability to hear the music they are creating?
Types of noise exposure
From Broadway musicals to high school band rooms, musicians are exposed to a variety of noise levels. Angela Babin (1999) compiled various articles regarding sound level measurements from a variety of different musical settings and audiometric testing of musicians and summarized their findings. She cited a study on rock-and-roll bands that were found to have noise levels ranging from 90-100 dBA (Babin, 1999). In a study noted by Cândido (2012), drummers in a pop-rock band were exposed to 109 dBA and 107 dBA. A research project investigating classical, rock, and jazz musicians concluded that those who played brass and woodwind instruments exhibited the worse auditory thresholds in the band (Kahari, 2004).
In a study of sound level measurements in a public school band room there was an average of 92.8 dBA and a maximum-recorded noise of 104 dBA. A study on sound level exposures in musicians who performed in the opera Wagner’s Ring Cycle found that many received more than 100% of the allowable daily dose, as set by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Babin (1999) studied Broadway shows, and found that 10 out of the 17 performances measured exceeded NIOSH RELs for two hours and 11 performances exceeded the OSHA action level for four hours. (Babin, 1999)
Under OSHA’s mandatory occupational noise standard, permissible exposure levels may not exceed an eight-hour TWA or 90 dBA. The ceiling level or level that may not be exceeded is 115 dBA. Also, impulse noises may not exceed 140 dBA at any time. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) advises a more protective standard with a recommended exposure limit (REL) for occupational noise exposure at 85 dBA, as an eight-hour TBA. Any exposure at or above this level is considered hazardous. (Babin, 1999)
The guidelines for safe exposure developed and refined by NIOSH and OSHA are for noise exposure often in regards to industrial settings. There are no guidelines specifically designed for music exposure. Musicians should follow the...