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|Year : 2009 | Volume
| Issue : 43 | Page : 124--128
A national project to evaluate and reduce high sound pressure levels from music
Johanna Bengtsson Ryberg
Unit for Environmental Health, National Board of Health and Welfare, SE - 106 30 Stockholm, Sweden
Johanna Bengtsson Ryberg
National Board of Health and Welfare, SE - 106 30, Stockholm
The highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds (music) in Sweden are 100 dB LAeq and 115 dB LAFmax for adults, and 97 dB LAeq and 110 dB LAFmax where children under the age of 13 have access. For arrangements intended for children, levels should be consistently less than 90 dB LAeq. In 2005, a national project was carried out with the aim of improving environments with high sound pressure levels from music, such as concert halls, restaurants, and cinemas. The project covered both live and recorded music. Of Sweden's 290 municipalities, 134 took part in the project, and 93 of these carried out sound measurements. Four hundred and seventy one establishments were investigated, 24% of which exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds in Sweden. Of festival and concert events, 42% exceeded the recommended levels. Those who visit music events/establishments thus run a relatively high risk of exposure to harmful sound levels. Continued supervision in this field is therefore crucial.
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Ryberg JB. A national project to evaluate and reduce high sound pressure levels from music.Noise Health 2009;11:124-128
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Ryberg JB. A national project to evaluate and reduce high sound pressure levels from music. Noise Health [serial online] 2009 [cited 2023 Sep 29 ];11:124-128
Available from: https://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2009/11/43/124/50698
Community noise is a widespread environmental problem in Sweden, affecting children as well as adults. Based on the findings of a national environmental health questionnaire,  the noise sources that produced most annoyance in children were noise from other children and loud music. It is worrying that children and young people are exposed to hearing-impairing noise to an extent that does not seem to have happened in the past. In the national environmental health questionnaire,  it was estimated, by the parents, that 2000 children at age four had impaired hearing. The corresponding figure at age 12 was about 4000 children. We neither know how many of these cases of hearing impairment are related to exposure to high sound levels nor do we know for certain whether hearing damage has become more common among children and young adults. In some preschools and schools, sound pressure levels have been measured that exceed the limit for when ear protectors must be worn, according to health and safety at work legislation. 
The National Board of Health and Welfare (NBHW) is a Government agency run by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, with policy guidelines set by the Government. The NBHW has overall responsibility for environmental health issues and is also responsible for producing recommendations on environmental health issues regulated in the Swedish Environmental Code. The NBHW' role as expert and supervisory authority, and its production of norms, exercise of supervision, and furthering of knowledge means that it wields influence over municipalities, professional groups, and individuals. Responsibility for health protection in other respects, and recommendations or guidelines for environmental factors in Sweden, is the responsibility of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. In short, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the outdoor environment, while the NBHW is responsible for the indoor environment. However regarding noise in work environments, that is the responsibility for the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
High sound pressure levels as a public health problem
In 2003, on the assignment of the Government, the NBHW evaluated  the effectiveness of and compliance with regulations governing high sound pressure levels. The evaluation comprised reports from researchers, NGOs, and businesses. It showed that many discotheques, restaurants, and gyms had excessive sound pressure levels and that there was a need to review and strengthen the regulations governing high sound pressure levels. It was found that young people often complained about high sound pressure levels and that a greater number of children than expected suffered from hearing damage and/or tinnitus. The evaluation also showed that the municipalities, meaning the local environmental health bodies, needed guidance in their supervisory work and that there was a need to develop a new method to measure high sound pressure levels from music.
As a result of the evaluation, it was decided that the NBHW, together with municipalities, should initiate a nationwide project concerning exposure to high sound pressure levels from music. All municipalities were invited to participate in the project.
Guidelines in Sweden
The Swedish Environmental Code came into force in January 1999. This code, which brought together 15 existing key environmental laws, has the overall aim of promoting sustainable development. It is elaborated and specified in the form of ordinances, regulations issued by public authorities, and decisions in individual cases. The regulations regarding high sound pressure levels in work environments  have functioned as a basis for the NBHW' General Recommendations regarding leisure sound. The pertinent work environment regulation is set out in the ordinance AFS 2005:16 on noise , issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority. This ordinance includes both upper action values (LEX, 8 h 80 dB(A)) and limit values (LEX, 8 h 85 dB(A)) regarding daily noise exposure level, eight hours. The provision also includes a peak and a maximum value (LpCpeak 135 dB and LpAFmax 115 dB, respectively). When applying the limit values, determination of a worker's exposure shall take into account the attenuation provided by the ear protectors worn by the worker.
As mentioned earlier, the NBHW General Recommendations are based on work environment regulations.  New Swedish General Recommendations for high sound pressure levels from music was passed on March 2005.  These General Recommendations provide recommendations on the application of Chapter 9, Article 3 and Chapter 26, Article 19 of the Swedish Environmental Code. The General Recommendations apply to premises and sites, both indoors and outdoors, where loud music is played, such as discotheques, concert halls, and gyms. Working from the daily noise exposure level (LEX, 8 h 85 dB(A)) in the regulation,  it was calculated that there ought to be a low risk of hearing impairment due to leisure sounds if the equivalent sound pressure level does not exceed 100 dB(A) and the exposure time is limited to five hours a week. [Table 1] shows the highest recommended sound pressure levels for music according to these General Recommendations in Sweden.  These standards should be applied when assessing whether or not a hazard to human health exists.
As can be seen in [Table 1], the values differ depending on age. For adults, sound pressure levels should not exceed 100 dB LAeq or 115 dB LAFmax. Children are considered to be at higher risk than adults, due to, for example, their behavior and lack of knowledge.  Therefore, the General Recommendations are more stringent when children can visit the arrangement. So, for arrangements for both adults and children, the sound pressure level should not exceed 97 dB LAeq or 110 dB LAFmax. Furthermore, for arrangements for children under the age of 13, the aim should always be to keep equivalent A-weighted sound pressure levels below 90 dB LAeq.
According to Chapter 26, Article 19 of the Environmental Code, self-inspections should include regular checking of noise levels. The operator should regularly plan and inspect operations to counteract or prevent any nuisance to people's health. Standard methods of measurement should be used.
The aim of this project was to improve environments with high sound pressure levels from music by strengthening supervision and boosting general knowledge of how to control high sound levels, and why it is important. The project also aimed to create greater consistency of supervision between different municipalities, stepup information about internal quality control to organizers and executives, and collect data at national level for future evaluations of the General Recommendations in this area.
Materials and Methods
In the spring of 2004, all municipalities in Sweden were informed that in 2005 the NBHW would be carrying out a national project concerning exposure to high sound pressure levels from music. The municipalities' measurements were carried out in April-October 2005 and the results reported to the NBHW at the end of October.
At local level, Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities. The NBHW invited all municipal environmental health bodies ( n = 290) to take part in the project. In total, 134 municipalities joined the project and of these 93 performed sound measurements.
Different kinds of environments where high sound pressure levels could be present were included in the project. Such environments include concert halls, restaurants, cinemas, and theaters. Live and recorded music both were included in the project.
Guidelines for the municipalities
To help the municipalities and to ensure that all the local environmental health inspectors worked in a comparable way throughout the project, a new method for measuring high sound pressure levels was developed and two documents about high sound pressure levels from music were produced, which municipalities can distribute when visiting sites with music, etc. A one-day course on high sound pressure levels (health effects and measurement methods, etc.) was also provided at four different locations in Sweden. The target group was the local environmental health inspectors.
Method for measuring high sound levels from music
In March 2005, the Technical Research Institute of Sweden published a new method for how the environmental health inspectors should measure high sound pressure levels from music.  The method describes how to measure, evaluate, and document the sound pressure levels that visitors to concerts, discotheques, gyms, and other places are exposed to. A revised version of the measurement method was published in September 2007.  In the revised version, one part of the method describes how the local authorities (the local environmental health inspectors) should carry out measurements and one describes how the business operators should measure during their self-inspections.
Briefly, there are two ways for the local environmental health inspector to measure high sound pressure levels from music. The first option is arrangements where visitors remain in the same position during the whole event, as is the case with concerts, cinemas, etc. At these events, the measurement is done where the sound pressure level is highest. If the arrangement lasts longer than an hour, the equivalent and maximum sound pressure levels for all 60-minute periods as well as the equivalent sound pressure level for the complete arrangement are measured (although municipalities are only allowed to measure one 60-minute period). At arrangements lasting for one hour or less, the equivalent and maximum sound pressure levels are measured for the duration of the arrangement. The other option is arrangements where visitors are moving around ( e.g. , discotheques, pubs, gyms). At these events, the equivalent and maximum sound pressure levels are measured during 15 minutes. Equivalent sound pressure levels should only be measured at places where visitors remain for longer periods while the maximum sound pressure level may be measured at all places that visitors have access to. If there is a dance floor, the equivalent sound pressure level is measured there and possibly also at one more position, depending on how the sound is distributed over the premises. If there is no dance floor, the equivalent sound pressure level is measured at the position with the highest sound pressure level. The maximum sound pressure level should be measured at the spot with the highest sound pressure level.
Municipalities reported the results of their measurements in a questionnaire which was then sent to the County Administrative Board. The County Administrative Board summarized the results of the municipalities in the county and sent them on to the NBHW for further evaluation. The questionnaire consisted of 13 questions. For six of these questions, very detailed answers were to be given in separate tables. These included the number of measurements in different establishments and the sound level for each measurement. The questionnaire also included questions on what action was taken when business operators exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels, whether there had been any problems during the inspections, what knowledge the business operators had of how to control the sound pressure level from the music, and finally, what knowledge the business operators had regarding their own responsibility for self-inspection.
In total, 134 municipalities took part in the project, 93 of which carried out measurements. A total of 471 establishments were investigated by the local environmental health inspectors. [Table 2] shows the number of measurements in different establishments by target group.
As shown in [Table 2], the number of measurements in different establishments varied between 8 and 178. The distribution of measurements by target group varied between 25 and 264. The number of measurements performed in each county varied between 4 and 54. At least 20 measurements were performed in half of Sweden's counties.
The percentage of exceeded sound pressure levels in different types of establishment is shown in [Figure 1]. In this study, it was considered to be of interest whether the measured sound pressure levels were below or above the highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds in Sweden. However, the results reported to the NBHW did not include details of the exact sound pressure level for each measurement.
In total, 24% ( n = 115) of the sound measurements exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds in Sweden. Festival and concert establishments were those with the highest number of sound measurements ( n = 178). Of these, 42% measured sound ( n = 73) that exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds. In the category 'other', not shown in the figure, more than half of the measurements exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds. However, this category only comprised eight measurements. Cinema ( n = 26) was the only establishment without any measurements that exceeded the recommended levels.
[Figure 2] shows the percentage of exceeded sound pressure levels by the target groups: adults, children and adults, and children. [Figure 3] shows the percentage of exceeded sound pressure levels distributed by announced and unannounced inspections.
In establishments targeting both children and adults ( n =182), 36% of the sound measurements exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure level for leisure sound. For the other two establishments, 'adults' ( n = 264) and 'children' ( n = 25), the corresponding percentages were 17 and 16, respectively.
It was up to the municipalities whether their inspections would be announced or unannounced. Most municipalities used both types of inspections, but the majority of inspections were announced (295 compared to 155). As can be seen in [Figure 3], there was no difference in the percentage of exceeded sound pressure levels between announced and unannounced inspections.
Most often, the action taken by the municipalities in cases where the highest recommended sound pressure levels were exceeded was an inspection report. Some municipalities also issued orders, with or without attached fines.
According to the municipalities, there was widely varying knowledge among business operators about how they should work to control the high sound pressure level from their music, and why it is important. There was very little knowledge among business operators regarding their own responsibility for self-inspection. Therefore, many of the municipalities made it a priority to inform business operators about self-inspection and their responsibilities.
A follow-up of the national project, two years later
In May 2007, the NBHW decided to carry out a follow-up study to see what had happened after the completion of the national project.  The aim was to investigate and evaluate what actions were undertaken by municipalities when business operators had exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels for music in the national project.
The NBHW distributed a questionnaire to the municipalities which had performed sound measurements in the national project ( n = 93). To simplify, it was an online questionnaire distributed by e-mail directly to the person that the NBHW was in contact with during the initial project. Sixty six percent of the municipalities ( n = 61) answered the questionnaire.
The results of the follow-up regarding action taken by the municipalities show that 60% of the municipalities wrote an inspection report regardless of whether or not the business operators had exceeded the recommended levels. The municipalities always took some action when the business operators exceeded recommended levels. Twenty two percent of the business operators that exceeded recommended levels a number of times was issued with orders, either with or without attached fines.
Regarding cooperation between the municipalities and the business operators, 88% of the local authorities answered that high sound pressure levels from music is an important issue in the municipality. Twenty four percent of the municipalities also answered that they now have better cooperation with the business operators than they did before the national project. Finally, 29% of the municipalities answered that the business operators' internal control improved compared to before the national project.
Discussion and Concluding
The aim of the project was to improve environments with high sound pressure levels from music, such as concert halls, restaurants, and cinemas. Both live and recorded music were included in the project. This study was an attempt to improve environments with high sound pressure levels from music, each municipalities� local environmental health inspectors performed their own measurements. A total of 134 municipalities took part in the project, 93 of which carried out sound measurements.
A total of 471 establishments were investigated, 24% of which exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure levels for leisure sounds in Sweden. Of festival and concert events, 42% exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure level. Thirty six percent of the establishments intended for both children and adults exceeded the highest recommended sound pressure level. For establishments intended for adults or children, respectively, the corresponding percentage was 17 and 16. Overall, there was no difference in the percentage of exceeded sound pressure levels between announced and unannounced inspections.
Revision of the General Recommendations on high sound levels, the new measurement method, the large number of participating municipalities, and the number of measurements that were carried out have all contributed to an increased awareness of the risks of high sound pressure levels among a vast number of people at different levels. Material and knowledge generated by the project can be a helpful tool to improve supervision at a later stage in those municipalities that did not carry out measurements in this project.
This was the first time the NBHW made such an attempt to coordinate supervision activities in the field of environmental health. A concerted effort like this allows us to obtain results from a large number of objects with wide geographical distribution. This is also a way to improve supervision and reduce environmental risks in low-activity areas.
At local level, supervision of high sound pressure levels should be regarded as regular work within an existing structure, but prior to this project, activity levels were rather low. The project has generated increased knowledge and awareness of risks among supervisory bodies and individuals arranging musical events. However, the actual reduction of risk needs to be evaluated at a later stage. The plan is therefore to repeat the project after approximately six years, that is, around 2011.
Of the sound measurements performed in the national project, 24% exceeded the highest recommended sound levels. Among festival and concert establishments, 42% of the sound measurements exceeded the highest recommended sound levels for leisure sounds. The results show that those who visit different music events and establishments run a relatively high risk of exposure to harmful sound pressure levels. Continued supervision in this field is therefore crucial to ensure that people can listen to and enjoy music without the risk of hearing damage. The intention of the project was to reach as many as possible of Sweden's municipalities, as well as the music industry, music organizations, and others arranging music events. Although not all municipalities were able to join the project, the material and knowledge generated by the project can be a helpful tool to improve supervision at a later stage. In the project, we have generated increased knowledge and awareness of risks among supervisory bodies and individuals arranging musical events. The actual reduction of risk, however, needs to be evaluated at a later stage.
|1||Environmental Health Report 2005, The National Board of Health and Welfare 2005 (summary in English).|
|2||Statutes of the Swedish Work Environment Authority. Ordinance (AFS 2005:16) on Noise (in Swedish only).|
|3||Assignment to evaluate whether regulations on high sound levels have the intended effect, dnr 00 7679/02, response to the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, 30 May 2003 (in Swedish only).|
|4||Implementation of the noise directive 2003/10/EC in Sweden and Denmark. B Johansson B and G Jensen, Euronoise, 30 May-1 June, 2006, Tampere, Finland.|
|5||High sound levels, SOSFS 2005:7, General Recommendations issued by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare.|
|6||Measurement of high sound pressure levels - a method for discotheques, concerts and other places where there is music. SP INFO 2004:45 (in Swedish only).|
|7||Measurement of high sound pressure levels - a method for discotheques, concerts and other arrangements with an audience. Part 1: Authority inspection. Part 2: Self-inspection. SP INFO 2004:45, revised 2007 (in Swedish only).|
|8||And then what? A follow-up of The National Board of Health and Welfare's national project to evaluate and reduce high sound levels from music. National Board of Health and Welfare, 2007 (in Swedish only).|