How loud is loud? You have to wonder. We often see people plugged into their headphones, listening to music. Most of them are quite conscious of the effect their music has on others and not to turn it on too loudly. But there are some for whom music needs to be played loudly, as if they are having a personal disco, for it to have any effect or meaning. And then there are the real anti-socials, playing music deliberately loudly as if to provoke a reaction, antagonising others to speak up while their devices blare away.
It is of course anti-social to play music at loud limits that annoy others. Every one has a different limit, and unfortunately it seems there are those that will challenge these boundaries and step in the gaps of ambuguities. But leaving the anti-social nature of it aside, how loud is loud?
The World Health Organisation recommends 85 decibels to be the safe limit for eight hours of listening, while a maximum of fifteen minutes is recommended for sounds at one hundred decibels. But at discos, the sound levels have been registered to be at higher levels. Even in sporting events, the cheering of football crowds can reach over a hundred decibels. (You can find the information here. Which is why football fans deliberately make noise to rattle opposing teams. Football player Timo Werner had to be substituted in a RB Leipzig match against Besiktas, despite wearing ear plugs to block out the noise, because it was causing him headaches and respiratory problems.
Exposure to loud noises can cause one to lose hearing function over time. The problem with hearing impairment, is that the loss is permanent. The composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven had to cope with losing his hearing, but fortunately managed to deal with it. But perhaps we need a keener measure of sound pollution. We know a train may produce sound levels of up to a hundred decibels, but how far away or how close we are to it affects the impact too. If we are standing next to a pneumatic drill and it is constantly drilling, it would do us more harm than if we we heard it from three streets away.
Why is sound pollution a problem? Listening using earphones, by virtue of their proximity to the ear canal, may cause more damage even at a lower volume compared to listening to louder noises from a further distance. If you are at a classical music concert and sat in the front row of say, a performance of music by Wagner, it is going to have more of an impact on your ears than if you were in a back row. It is not inconceivable that we will see more lawsuits filed in the future by various professionals working in the sound industry (stage technicians), music industry (dancers), teachers, construction workers, filing suits against their employers claiming that their health and safety at work as not enforced. A teacher, for example, having to work with noisy classes may sue his school for giving him the class with more noisy students while other colleagues got “better students”. It sounds silly but it is not a far-fetched idea that in an economy that is stagnant, individuals seeking to claim compensation to make up for financial shortfall may resort to noise levels as a source of contention.