Q: What are some common sound pressure levels of normal situations?


  • 15 dB - Forest
  • 25 dB - Bedroom
  • 40 dB - Living Room
  • 65 dB - Business Office
  • 85 dB - Street Traffic
  • 100 dB - Pneumatic Hammer
  • 125 dB - Jet Take-Off
  • 140 dB - Threshold of Pain

Q: How do we measure sound?

A: The Sound Level Meter (SLM) consists of a microphone, electronic circuits and a readout display. The microphone detects the small air pressure variations associated with sound and changes them into electrical signals. These signals are then processed by the electronic circuitry of the instrument. The readout displays the sound level in decibels. The SLM takes the sound pressure level at one instant in a particular location.

To take measurements, the SLM is held at arm's length at the ear height for those exposed to the noise. With most SLMs it does not matter exactly how the microphone is pointed at the noise source. The instrument's instruction manual explains how to hold the microphone. The SLM must be calibrated before and after each use. The manual also gives the calibration procedure.

With most SLMs, the readings can be taken on either SLOW or FAST response. The response rate is the time period over which the instrument averages the sound level before displaying it on the readout. Workplace noise level measurements should be taken on SLOW response.

A Type 2 SLM is sufficiently accurate for industrial field evaluations. The more accurate and much more expensive Type 1 SLMs are primarily used in engineering, laboratory and research work. Any SLM that is less accurate than a Type 2 should not be used for workplace noise measurement.

An A-weighting filter is generally built into all SLMs and can be switched ON or OFF. Some Type 2 SLMs provide measurements only in dB(A), meaning that the A-weighting filter is ON permanently.

A standard SLM takes only instantaneous noise measurements. This is sufficient in workplaces with continuous noise levels. But in workplaces with impulse, intermittent or variable noise levels, the SLM makes it difficult to determine a person's average exposure to noise over a work shift. One solution in such workplaces is a noise dosimeter.

A noise dosimeter is a small, light device that clips to a person's belt with a small microphone that fastens to the person's collar, close to an ear. The dosimeter stores the noise level information and carries out an averaging process. It is useful in industry where noise usually varies in duration and intensity, and where the person changes locations.

A noise dosimeter requires the following settings:

  1. Criterion Level: exposure limit for 8 hours per day five days per week. Criterion level is 90 dB(A) for many jurisdictions, 85 dB(A) for some and 87 dB(A) for Canadian federal jurisdictions.
  2. Exchange rate: 3 dB or 5 dB as specified in the noise regulation.
  3. Threshold: noise level limit below which the dosimeter does not accumulate noise dose data.

Wearing the dosimeter over a complete work shift gives the average noise exposure or noise dose for that person. This is usually expressed as a percentage of the maximum permitted exposure. If a person has received a noise dose of 100% over a work shift, this means that the average noise exposure is at the maximum permitted. For example, with a criterion level of 90 dB(A) and an exchange rate of 3 dB(A), an eight-hour exposure to 90 dB(A) gives a 100% dose. A four-hour exposure to 93 dB(A) is also a 100% dose, whereas an eight-hour exposure to 93 dB(A) is a noise dose of 200%.

Usually the manufacturer electronically adjusts dosimeters to the criterion level and exchange rate in use. You may have to adjust them to suit the exposure guidelines/standards in force in your jurisdiction.

Dosimeters also give an equivalent sound or noise level. This is the average exposure level for noise over the time dosimeter was on. It has the same total sound energy as the actual, variable sound levels to which a person is exposed over the same time period. Scientific evidence suggests that hearing loss is affected by the total noise energy exposure. If a person is exposed over an eight-hour work shift to varying noise levels, it is possible to calculate an equivalent sound level which would equal the same total sound energy exposure. This would have the same effect on the person's hearing as the variable exposure actually received.

Source: Canadian Centre For Occupational Health And Safety

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