What is dB?

dB, written with a lowercase d and a capital B, stands for decibel. While most commonly used to measure how loud a sound is, dB is more properly a measurement that is used to express the value of a power or field quantity to another. It can be used in many different fields including perception, acoustics, electronics, optics, and more. Understanding exactly what is being measured is essential whenever looking at decibels.

Measuring the Level of Sound

When looking at dB in the workplace it is almost always going to be referencing how loud the environment is. This is especially true when looking to improve workplace safety because an area that is too loud can have a serious negative impact on the hearing of employees. In loud areas, it is necessary to provide employees with proper hearing protection to ensure they are safe.

The following are some key dB levels that employers should be aware of when trying to improve workplace safety.

  • 0 dB – This is absolute silence. Even in libraries it is unlikely that this will ever be reached since there are almost always natural sounds occurring. A person simply breathing, for example, will reach 10dB.
  • 80 dB – This is the level at which possible hearing damage can occur with extended exposure. An example of this would include running a food processor, normal factory noises, and things like that.
  • 120 dB – At this level hearing damage is likely to occur even after only a short period of time. Rock concerts and chainsaws are both at this level.
  • 130+ dB – Anything above this level will cause immediate hearing loss and in some cases eardrum rupture.

Taking the dB under consideration, this should point the employer to what hazard controls need to be out in place and what level of hearing protection is needed.


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