Just as humans do not see all colors of the electromagnetic spectrum with equal brightness, they also do not hear all sound frequencies with equal loudness. To account for this, A-weighted curves adjust the balance of sound energy across audible frequencies.

Estimating effective A-weighted sound pressure levels is essential for evaluating the protection provided by hearing protection devices (HPDs) in preventing noise hazards. The protection level of HPDs is demonstrated by their attenuation ratings, which are measured in laboratory settings and computed according to specific standards.

Gong et al. investigated the field attenuation characteristics of various HPDs, estimated their protection using different rating methods, and discussed the main factors affecting noise protection.

The team used octave-band attenuation data from field users to calculate noise attenuation for 100 different industrial noises based on international standards. This was used to estimate the effective A-weighted sound pressure level when the HPDs are worn in the real world.

“The noise protection provided by HPDs varied with the quality of fit, noise spectra, and HPD,” said author Yufei Liu. “Improving the quality of fit is the most effective approach to reduce the deviations in estimating the protection provided by HPDs. Based on our findings, we provided practical recommendations to users and standard developers to resolve these issues.”

C-weighted curves are a refinement to A-weighted curves to adjust for the human response to sound energy when sound levels increase. C-weighted levels were essential for some of these estimates, so the team recommended using the measurements for proper use of attenuation ratings in hearing conservation programs.

The researchers plan to continue conducting field studies in more workplaces with different HPD practices.

Source: “Field attenuation characteristics of hearing protectors and differences in estimating their attenuation with different methods,” by Wei Gong, Yanqiong Xu, and Yufei Liu, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (2022). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0011512.