// Don't Go Deaf Teaching Group Exercise!

by John Penhallow

That’s actually not such a silly statement when you think about it. The health and safety issue of noise in the workplace is not restricted to factory machinery humming and whirring at high levels or tradesmen wielding angle grinders or drilling holes in concrete floors. In fact, the National Acoustics Lab (NAL) information sheet on noise exposure says this:

‘The ear cannot distinguish between noise produced by work activities, even though leisure noise may bring a lot of pleasure. Currently there are no specific regulations that control the amount of noise to which patrons are exposed at any entertainment, dance or music venue (including group exercise and indoor cycling studios). Indirectly there may be some control through Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation. In general it is up to the patrons to avoid hazardous noise areas (no matter how good the music may be!)’.

This can be interpreted to mean that the official noise level guidelines cover all members attending a class as well as facility employees of any kind, even if they work in the group exercise environment for just an hour a day instructing a single class.

The instructor also has a responsibility to others in their workplace; they need to be correctly advised by management on how loud they can push each sound system they might use. If the instructor is setting the volume at too loud a level and a member complains about ‘ringing in the ears’ afterwards, they have the legal responsibility for this, along with the club.

So, how loud is too loud in the OH&S world we live in? Well, each state and territory of Australia has its own laws, but the national standard is set by Worksafe Australia and the standard is currently 85dB(A) for an eight hour exposure of continuous noise (which could mean background music plus treadmills, bikes whirring etc) and for each one-hour fitness class, run by a different instructor with different participants in a dedicated studio, the sound level should average no more than 94dB(A).

Let me explain a little more; when we say average that does not account for the shouts of ‘4 more’, the occasional sound peak like a holler or a whistle that goes over the 94dB level – we are talking about constant level noise exposure, referred to as ‘average noise dosage’. Many fitness CDs have high average levels of music – if you were able to meter them, they would hit the red line from the opening riff and stay there. You know the ones I’m referring to, all musical energy, pounding bass, plenty of percussion filling the available airspace and no relief in sight until the cool down song at the end. This music is made to be loud, but it’s often dynamically lacking because it’s high volume for 50 minutes, with no light and shade to lower the average dosage and give the ears a rest.

A recent survey of 300 older Australians with hearing loss, conducted on behalf of Australian Hearing, found that 80 per cent of men considered workplace noise to be a major factor in their condition. ‘Once your hearing has been damaged it cannot be restored’ says NAL’s research director, Harvey Dillon; ‘too much noise for too long whether it’s just noise or whether it’s sound you want to listen to, like music – will give you a hearing loss that’s irreversible’. He also added that listening to an MP3 player at full volume through earbuds or headphones can be like having a chainsaw working next to you, and is concerned that today’s Gen Y’ers will be deaf before retirement age because of this leisure noise exposure.

So, what can be done about it in a simple, practical sense? Well, knowledge is power and every club should own a reasonably accurate decibel meter and know what the typical SPL levels are in all areas of their club. Group exercise managers should take and record regular measurements (a quarterly audio audit is a good idea) of the sound levels that each instructor teaches at and give them feedback if they’re too loud for their own good. Measurements should be taken about one metre from a side wall between speakers at head height, so that you are not measuring direct sound. If sound levels are consistently too high, it may be worth investing in the SoundEar SPL Monitoring Panel, which when linked to a Fitness Audio Aeromix mixer hands control of the audio output to the SoundEar Panel. The SoundEar can be set at 100dB and hung on a side wall to measure reflected sound; if the red warning light goes on for five seconds, showing that levels have hit 100dB, the Aeromix automatically shut the sound down for an adjustable 6 to 60 seconds recovery time, and the music volume will have to be turned down to avoid a repeat cut out. It may seem harsh, but it’s effective – the best advice is to mix to the amber light with this product combination.

Regardless of whether or not you invest in equipment to do the job for you, the point is, all instructors should learn how to turn up the intensity of their classes without turning up the volume so high that it damages their ears. Instructors are in the front line for prospective hearing damage, and they control the noise environment they work in, so they can do something about it – just turn it down a touch!

Thanks to NAL and Australian Hearing for their contribution. Visit www.hearing.com.au to find out more.

Aerobic Microphones Australia can supply the permanently installed SoundEar Range of SPL Monitoring Systems and the Check Mate Handheld Digital SPL Meter by mail order direct to clubs or to their usual audio dealer for installing. (NB. Australian Hearing and the National Acoustics Lab do not endorse any of the solutions suggested here).

John Penhallow
John is the managing director of Aerobic Microphones Australia and has been a supplier to, and active supporter of, the fitness industry for 20 years. For more information e-mail sales@aeromic.com.au or visit www.aeromic.com.au

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