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)


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

Reduce Noise Exposure with Super Air Nozzles

News from the CDC that those of us involved with industrial safety are paying close attention to is the release of their NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) division’s Hazard Evaluation Program Noise Measurement Database, which contains data obtained through Health Hazard Evaluation surveys performed between 1996 and 2012. It includes hundreds of personal noise exposure measurements (how much noise was received by individuals) and almost as many area noise measurements (how much noise was made.) A comparison of these measurements, of course, is valuable in determining if appropriate measures are being taken to abate the exposure, which is key: there are an awful lot of industrial processes where there’s nothing that can be done about the generation of noise…they’re just simply LOUD. So, they focus on what they can do to limit exposure: Use engineering controls (retrofit open line with engineered nozzles, build sound barriers) , use administrative controls (relocating personnel away from the sound), use personal protective equipment, and spending as little time as possible near the source.

Regardless of what people can get used to, the area noise associated with compressed air use CAN be reduced, while still maintaining the efficiency of the operation. Here’s the deal:

*The most basic form of air blow off is a piece of pipe, tubing, or hose connected to a source of compressed air. When it’s opened to the atmosphere, the compressed air exits with a great deal of force. This makes quite a racket, and the only way to quiet it down is to reduce the air supply pressure. Then you get less force, however, and it might not get the job done.

*Engineered air nozzles, such as EXAIR’s Super Air Nozzles, solve this problem by design:

air nozzle flow

The compressed air supply (black arrow) uses the Coanda effect when it exits the series of holes recessed in the array of fins (dark blue arrows.) This serves to entrain an enormous amount of air from the surrounding environment (light blue arrows,) which not only results in a high volume flow rate at minimal consumption, but also makes the resultant air flow very quiet.

EXAIR Super Air Nozzles are quiet, efficient, and easy to get…we maintain inventory of anything you see in the Catalog, all available for same day shipment. If you’d like to know how EXAIR products can be easy on your ears…and your wallet…give me a call!

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
(513)671-3322 local
(800)923-9247 toll free
(513)671-3363 fax
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Lower Your Noise Levels and Measure the Results.

Last year, I bought an old pickup to haul firewood.  I got it cheap, but of course, it had a few issues.  Among them were mushy brakes.  A quick inspection revealed a leaky rear brake line which I quickly replaced.  Now a year later, the brakes are starting to get mushy again.  After bleeding them again and going over the entire system, it looks like the master cylinder has come to the end of its useful life as well.  Guess that means a another trip to the parts store is in my future.  Oh well, I love a good challenge.

Have you ever been in this situation?  Perhaps you’ve fixed one problem, only to find another.  Often is the case when a customer replaces a noisy blow off operation with a much quieter, engineered EXAIR nozzle or air knife.  Things become so much quieter, that customers often begin to hear how much louder other operations in the plant are. 

While EXAIR can’t help quiet every noisy operation in your plant, we can help you find them.  Our Sound Level Meter comes calibrated and ready to go.  You’ll quickly be able to track down those loud operations, and sooner be able to identify a solution.  And of course, if it is compressed air related, we’ll help you find a solution.  And like me with the brakes on my truck, you might just find you enjoy the challenge!

Dan Preston
Mechanical Engineer
EXAIR Corporation