Noise apps: what you need to know

Nov 15, 2017

noise appsMeasuring noise levels with an app on your smartphone or tablet: what could be simpler? But are the measurements accurate? Could these apps be too good to be true? WSPS eNews asked WSPS Occupational Hygiene Specialist Warren Clements for his perspective on these popular new applications.

"How useful the apps are depends in part on what you're using them for," says Warren. "Recording nuisance noise - a too-loud house party next door, or a sound system blasting from the apartment above you - may help back up your complaint to a by-law officer or building manager, but as for assessing noise levels at work, a higher level of accuracy is required."

Here's what you need to know:

  • According to a study done by Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene*, in certain situations smartphones, using an effective application and equipped with an external calibrated microphone can collect measurements just as accurately as a Type 2 sound level meter - a device typically used by trained professionals to take noise level readings.
  • Measurements must be accurate, especially if the noise level may be close to Ontario's maximum time-weighted noise exposure limit of 85 decibels (dB) over an eight-hour work shift. Decibels are based on a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale. For a linear scale, like length, four metres are twice as long as two metres. For a logarithmic scale like decibels, twice as loud as 85 dBA is not 170 dBA. Using a 3dB exchange rate, it's 88 dBA.
  • We are exposed to noise at work and at home, noise is everywhere. Up to 90% of most production type workplaces, even warehousing, could have noise levels above the maximum allowable limit, estimated one WSPS occupational hygienist recently.

The bottom line

"Using a smartphone app and an external microphone will give you data," says Warren. "But the data might be misleading if you are not using a calibrated, external microphone. How can you make sound decisions if you don't have the right information?"

Warren offers an alternative that doesn't involve any technology. "If you're a metre away and have to raise your voice to a very loud level to make yourself heard, this tells me the noise level may be around 85 db," he says. "But this too is a rough, subjective guideline.  Use it only as an indicator that further testing may be required."

How we can help

  1. Inform yourself with WSPS online noise resources include a hearing conservation guideline, e-courses in English and French, and recently published articles, including A 4-point compliance strategy for Ontario's new noise regulation.
  2. WSPS Consultants have the expertise to conduct exposure assessment and help you find ways to reduce worker exposure to noise. Solutions don't have to be complicated or costly. Speak with a consultant today: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).

* Benjamin Roberts, Chucri Kardous and Richard Neitzel, "Improving the accuracy of smart devices to measure noise exposure," Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Vol. 13, No. 11, pp. 840-846