Protect your ears against noise pollution

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A single blast of noise above 165 decibels and your eardrums are toast…

3M Peltor provides a wide range of hearing protection, and communication, solutions. Your eardrums will love you later in life as a result, says our communication and marketing consultant, Adrian Burford

If you rocked up at a race meeting a couple of decades ago with a pair of earmuffs at the ready, you probably would’ve been laughed off the grandstand and been called a girl’s blouse – or worse. And in those days, cars – and bikes – were really noisy! A day at the races and particularly in the pits left you deaf and some of us bear the scars. And no, Mrs Burford, it isn’t just selective hearing!

So it pleased me that one of Automotive Technology Specialists’ sister companies, Hearing Protection & Communication (HPC), joined forces with the organisers of the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb and provided startline personnel and marshals on the course with a range of Peltor ear protection products. These ranged from simple passive noise attenuation devices, through to SportTac level-dependant active earmuffs (which provide instant protection from loud ‘impulse’ noise) and on to a pair of Litecom Plus communication devices.

The latter enabled the flagman at the event, Marck Cooper, to talk effortlessly with the chief timekeeper in an office nearby and thus seamlessly co-ordinate the departure of each competitor. Cooper was very close to the action for two full days and by the end of the weekend he would’ve in all likelihood have suffered some form of hearing loss – and possibly permanent aural damage.

Experts say that a person should not be exposed to constant noise higher than 85 dB for more than eight hours in a 24-hour period and he would’ve been way beyond that.

According to MSA’s White Book from 1999 (and it was a book then) all race cars were permitted to measure 98 decibels at a distance of two metres and with the engine running at 75 percent of maximum revs. The current permissible for single-seater and sports racing cars is 96 dB, and 93 for saloons and sports cars – so that doesn’t sound like much of a change.

But what is a decibel? A decibel is a unit used to measure sound levels and is based on a logarithmic scale. This means a three decibel increase represents a doubling of the sound pressure level. When the noise doubles the exposure time should be halved, which means the maximum acceptable exposure to a constant 100 dB is only 15 minutes.

So if a three dB reduction is a halving of the noise then in real terms race cars have become much quieter since the turn of the century - but I’m sure some of the more powerful single seaters and sports cars at the JSH exceeded the 1999 figure by some margin…

Normal speech is about 60 dB and the noise inside the cockpit of a single-seater can reach 130, the wind contributing some of that. Exposure to anything higher than 145 dB can cause permanent physical damage while a single ‘hit’ above 165 dB and your ear drums are almost certainly toast.

One of the warning signs is tinnitus, variously described as a ringing, buzzing or hissing sound in the ears. Some sufferers liken it to the noise of a mosquito, or the sound of the sea.

There definitely seemed to be more awareness of the noise issue at Simola this year and along with the sign on the chair (!) quite a few people were wearing soft foam earplugs – which can reduce noise by about 20 dB.

It soon became obvious why: strolling up and down the pitlane and general environs was a rather unremarkable-looking individual carrying a cardboard tray (a beer box I suspect) at his waist, the make-shift shelf supported by a neck strap. It was packed with ear plugs, and he was doing a roaring trade – at R10 a pop.

Turns out the individual is a Doctor Martin Young, a local Ear Nose and Throat Specialist. And he wasn’t impressed by the lack of protection, particularly for children: “What I saw there horrified me. Little kids, babies in the pits, with no protection. There's one kid who I am sure will have suffered hearing loss….”

He’s keen to talk to the organisers about next year, and of course, so too is Hearing Protection & Communication. Needless to say the issues raised here go beyond the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb and the same risk is inherent at every motorsport event in the country – from junior karting to oval track racing.

So remember, if you only have two of something, take extra care of them, even if your less well-informed mates call you a girl’s blouse – or worse!

Loud and proud…2015 champion Des Gutzeit screams up Simola’s hill