fbpx
September 23, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


Understanding Sound Pressure Level (SPL) and the Decibel Scale

Stihl BT 131 Earth Auger Review

Hearing protection is something we talk a lot about on any job. Hearing loss is one of those things that happens over time, so it’s not always a priority for younger guys and gals. But that scene of an old lady shouting at her husband just to be heard is only cute in movies and TV. It sucks in real life. With that in mind, we decided to put together a quick guide to understanding sound pressure level (SPL) and the decibel scale (or dB scale).


What is Sound Pressure Level (SPL)?

Since we’re going for a functional level of understanding and not preparing you for a final exam, I’m going to skip some of the fine details and focus on the general concepts.

Sound pressure level, or SPL, is a measurement of sound pressure that uses Pascals (Pa) as its unit of measurement. We convert that into the more popular decibel scale or dB scale.

Sound pressure is the difference between the pressure from a sound wave and the ambient pressure of what the sound is traveling through (usually air for our purposes).

The reason sound pressure levels and decibels are so important is that it gives us a numerical scale to work with to help prevent hearing loss.

Sound Pressure Level and the Decibel Scale

There are two major points to keep in mind when it comes to the dB scale: the actual sound pressure level and how loud something sounds

There are tons of decibel equivalent examples out there to give you a general idea of how loud something sounds at a certain decibel level like the one we’ve included.


Understanding Sound Pressure Level and the Decibel Scale - Decibel Levels

How Sound Pressure Level Works

When it comes to the sound pressure level (keeping in mind that sound pressure does the actual damage), it doubles every 3 decibels and has a magnitude of 10x every 10 decibels.

To put that into practice, let’s consider a conversation that registers 60 on the decibel scale (60 dB). A louder conversation at 63 decibels has 2x the sound pressure level, one at 66 decibels has 4x the SPL and a group of people talking to a level of 70 dB has 10x the SPL.

Change in Sound Pressure Level - Understanding Sound Pressure Level and the Decibel Scale

Compared to a 60 dB sound…

  • 63 dB has 2 times the SPL
  • 66 dB has 4 times the SPL
  • 69 dB has 8 times the SPL
  • 70 dB has 10 times the SPL
  • 72 dB has 12 times the SPL and so on…

How Perceived Loudness Works

When it comes to how loud something sounds, it’s a slightly different ballgame, but we can still understand it using the decibel scale. This one is a little more straightforward: as you move up 10 decibels, the noise sounds twice as loud.

Change in Perceived Loudness - Understanding Sound Pressure Level and the Decibel Scale

Compared to a 60 dB sound…

  • 70 dB sounds 2x as loud
  • 80 dB sounds 4x as loud
  • 90 dB sounds 8x as loud and so on…

How Sound Pressure Level and the Decibel Scale Affect Work

OSHA Table G-16 Permissible Noise Exposure - Understanding Sound Pressure Level and the Decibel Scale

OSHA defines how much noise you can be exposed to over specific periods of time. For example, you can work for 8 hours with your ears catching 90 decibels or you can work for 1 hour at 105 decibels. Both of those are limits per day.

Hearing protection lets us work longer in louder environments without violating those OSHA limits. When you’re shopping for hearing protection, look for the NRR value—Noise Reduction Rating. It very simply tells you how many decibels the device reduces.

If you’re working in an environment that’s a pretty constant 105 decibels and you use earmuffs with an NRR of 25, your ears are only exposed to 80 decibels. It’s pretty simple!

Related articles

High Wind Nailing Pattern for Shingles Installation

When preparing for a roofing job you need more than just a good coil roofing nailer. You also need more than a solid understanding of OSHA safety rules. Whether it be a complete re-shingle or simply a repair, you’re bound to hear talk about a high-wind nailing pattern. This goes double if you live near the coast or anywhere in […]

What Does Intrinsically Safe Mean?

When you’re working in a hazardous location, having intrinsically safe (IS) gear is a common requirement. For our purposes, we’re going to use the example of an intrinsically safe headlamp in this article.  For a lighting device to carry an intrinsically safe rating, it has to have a build that won’t cause the ignition of […]

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
2 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mariya

Great article! Thank you for sharing.
However, it is sound power that doubles every 3 dB. Sound pressure doubles every 6 dB.

Brian Walker

This is the reason why I got custom earplugs from Big Ear. You never know when you’re gonna experience loud hearing damaging noises so you just have to be ready.

2
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x