If you are trying to understand how loud sounds are, and what is and isn’t safe then this information should help.

When thinking about sound levels you also need to be aware of exposure times, so how long sounds are safe for, this will help you understand when and how to protect yourself.

What is a decibel?

A decibel dB is the unit used to measure the intensity of a sound – 85dB and above is the level at which noise becomes unsafe without the use of hearing protection.

For sounds under 85dB, there should be no need for hearing protection. Although if you work in a noisy environment, up to 80dB, you should be trained and educated to understand the risks and hearing protection should be made available.

85dB and over hearing protection should be provided. These rules do not relate to social noise, and that’s where you need to make sure you protect yourself.

Sound levels and exposure times

Here are some examples of sound levels and maximum exposure times, after which hearing protection is required. These examples should give you a gauge for sound levels, some sounds are unavoidable and we aren't saying avoid the below sounds - for example, you can't avoid a crying baby, but it's good to know how to understand what:

85dB Kitchen blender 8 hrs
88dB Forklift truck 4 hrs
91dB Tube train 2 hrs
94dB Lawnmower 1 hr
97dB Industrial fire alarm 30 mins
100dB Handheld drill 15 mins
103dB MP3 player max vol 7.5 mins
106dB Motorbike 3.75 mins
109dB Crying baby 112 seconds
112dB Live rock band 66 seconds

For full details on sound levels see our leaflet on Noise and the Ear or visit the BTA's tinnitus prevention campaign website, Plug'em.