Understanding Decibels & Why OSHA Pays Attention to Your Noise Exposure

In the simplest of metric terms, a decibel is one-tenth of a bel.  But, historically, bel was a unit created to honor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone.  In the early days with telephone wires, they noticed that the signal strength would decay over a long distance.  In order to determine power requirements to connect people for communications, they determined that they could use the ratio of power levels.  As a start, it had to be based on a minimum amount of power required for a person to hear on the telephone.  They found that the signal power level to generate an angular frequency of 5000 radians per second would be that minimum value as determined by an average number of people.  They used this mark as a reference point in the ratio of power levels.  Because of the large variations in values, they simplified the equation on a base-10 log scale and dividing the bel unit by 10.  Thus, creating the measurement of decibel.

Today, this same method is used to measure sound.  Like frequency waves that travel through the telephone wires, pressure waves travel through the air as sound.  This sound pressure is what our ears can detect as loudness, and it has a pressure unit of Pascals (Pa).  As an example, a small sound pressure would be like a whisper while a large sound pressure would be like a jet engine.  This is very important to know as high sound pressures, or loudness, can permanently damage our ears.

With sound pressures, we can determine the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) which is measured in decibels (dB).  Similar to the equation for the telephone power signals above, the SPL also uses a ratio of sound pressures in a base-10 logarithmic scale.  For a minimum reference point, an average human can just start to hear a sound pressure at 0.00002 Pa.  So, the equation for measuring sound levels will use this minimum reference point as shown in Equation 1.

Equation 1:

L = 20 * Log10 (p/pref)

where:

L – Sound Pressure Level, dB

p – Sound pressure, Pa

pref – reference sound pressure, 0.00002 Pa

Why is this important to know the decibels?  OSHA created a chart in 29CFR-1910.95(a) that shows the different noise levels with exposure times.  This chart was created to protect the operators from hearing loss in work environments.  If the noise level exceeds the limit, then the operators will have to wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), or suffer hearing damage.  EXAIR offers a Sound Level Meter, model 9104, to measure sound levels in decibels.  It comes calibrated to accurately measure the sound to determine if you have a safe work environment.

Sound Level Meter

There is a term that is used when it comes to loud noises, NIHL.  This stands for Noise Induced Hearing Loss.  Once hearing is damaged, it will not come back.  To keep your operators safe and reduce NIHL, EXAIR offers many different types of blow-off products that are designed to decrease noise to a safe level.  So, here’s to Alexander Graham Bell for creating the telephone which can be used to contact EXAIR if you have any questions.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

Photo of Telephone by Alexas_FotosCC0 Create Commons

Super Air Knife Math – When 72 + 72 = 75

The Super Air Knife is the latest generation of EXAIR engineered air knife that dramatically reduces compressed air usage and noise when compared to other blowoffs.

Super Air Knife Data

From the chart above, the Super Air Knife when supplied with 100 PSIG of compressed air has a sound level of just 72 dBA (A-weighted decibel scale) when measured from 3′ away.  72 dBA is a moderate sound level, and some common comparisons are ‘normal speaking voice’ at 70 dBA and ‘living room music’ at 76 dBA.

For many processes, such as a bottling line drying operation, a pair of the air knives delivers the best performance. When asked, “what is the sound level for (2) of the knives,” a little Acoustic Engineering is in order. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, the result is not as simple as adding 72 + 72 = 144.  144 dBA is in the range of a jet aircraft take off! Thankfully, both the actual sound level and the numerical value are determined another way.  I’ll spare you a lot of the math but the equation is as below.

Capture

… where SL1, SL2, SL3 are the sound levels in dBA of the each sound makers, for as many that are being combined.

In the case of (2) Super Air Knives operated 100 PSIG, the combined sound works out to be a quiet 75.0 dBA — a powerful, efficient and quiet product ideal for many applications and process within the manufacturing environment.

Super Air Knife
Super Air Knife

As a helpful rule of thumb- combining any (2) items will yield an increase of 3 dBA, combining (3) results in a rise of 4.8 dBA, and combining (4) results in a 6 dBA rise over just (1) of the items.

The Super Air Knives have been successfully used in a wide range of applications, including part drying, sheet and conveyor cleaning, web cooling, scrap removal, pre-paint dust blowoff, and many, many more.

To discuss your application and how an EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Product can make your process better and quieter, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our other Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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