OSHA, Safety and event volumes

Having now attended 2 FIRST events as a parent - I wonder if Woody and Dean have considered that they are promoting hearing loss in exhorting the events be “loud”. I’m not talking about team cheering - I’m talking about both the music and, especially, the announcing at these events.

Now don’t get me wrong - I’m the guy my family is always telling to turn the stereo down. I love techno, think the soundtracks at these events totally rock. But the decibel levels in the audience are neither safe - nor meet OSHA standards.

Let’s take an example from the following link on Hearing Loss as it relates to noise levels from the OSHA website:

OSHA Standards

In this article we’re presented with the OSHA standards for preventing hearing loss. I would estimate that at the 2 venues I’ve attended, and especially at the Philadelphia Regional where - despite numerous people complaining that the event was too loud - they kept the levels dangerously high - well over 120db.

The article states that a typical rock concert is at around 150db. I’d estimate that in the bleachers - especially under the speakers - the noise level was pretty close to this - continuously from 9am at event start to 4pm at event end. In order to be able to hear announcing over the loud music, the announcers voice was broadcast at an even higher rate - to the point where the speakers were distorting the sound (which can cause even more hearing damage).

According to OSHA - anything over 2 HOURS of exposure at 100db or more is unsafe - and it takes even less time to lose hearing as you increase the volume. The charts and calculation show that PERMANENT HEARING LOSS results from continuous exposure over a 6-7 hour period for several days in a row (as we’re subjected to in the stands at most events). Since my father, and both my uncles, have suffere occupational hearing loss I can tell yout that it is no fun at all to spend the latter 1/2 of your life with hearing aids and not being able to hear discussions or carry on conversations with other people in a crowd.

At 100db for a 6 hour period (which I would again estimate is WELL UNDER what we’re subjected to) you are exceeding the occupational TWA (Time Weighted Average) of dangerous noise levels by 3 times - for 2 days straight or longer.

According the CDC ((http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/faq/faq.html#hazardousnoise)), “if you’ve been exposed to noise where you must raise your voice to speak to someone at arm’s length you’ve been exposed to a hazardous amount of noise” and "if you leave an event, workplace or venue an have a ringing or muffled sound in your ears you’ve been exposed to a hazardous amount of noise.

FIRST is an organization which prides itself on safety. We make sure every pit has MSDS sheets on hand, emergency plans filed, pits maintained and kept safe, tool training, safety seminars, safety glasses in the pit area, gloves on our lifter team, etc. Our team even has gone to the effort to be sure that as many mentors, chaperones an teachers as possible are trained on CPR, First Aid and AED operation. And then we go out to cheer our team on and end up exposing ourselves to dangerous levels of noise for hours at a time.

Hearing loss is not a joke. And you can’t tell what damage you’re doing to your ears until much later in life. I applaud teams like Moe and 341 that hand out earplugs. Bur realistically they shouldn’t have to. I just believe that they should not be necessary and that FIRST as an organization should be looking out for the safety of our childrens, mentors, FIRST staff, chaperones and volunteers hearing - as much as they look out for the safety in other arenas.

It’s perfectly reasonable to have fun, boppy music at a decent level, and enthusiastic announcing. But if people are plugging their ears in the stands, and taking time to talk to a FIRST representative about the sound level - it’s time to consider just backing off from the dials that go all the way to 11 :slight_smile:

Cheers and thanks for listening to me,

Lee Drake, concerned parent and FIRST sponsor

Please note that these are my personal opinions - I don’t consider myself a noise abatement expert, nor am I speaking on behalf of my team. I’ll be wearing earplugs - and continuing to believe they just should not be necessary.

The music in Philly was rather loud today. It is pretty bad for the older people who come to support teams, I know that my grandmother has sensitive ears and she was there almost all day and I was very concerned. The music would be loud enough even if they turned it down a little. With how small the comepetition is for the arena in Philly it is a little to loud. And I did see a parent/mentor/advisor from 1511 covering their ears today and thats when I realized that the music was excessively loud.

Amen. I couldn’t agree more. It’s telling that almost all the adults ringside at the Seattle event were wearing earplugs all day long, and I lost my voice from talking to the other scorekeeper and the head referee – at a distance of about a foot. Seattle was especially painful – small venue, concrete floors, metal roof, and aluminum bleachers. It was louder than any rock concert I’ve ever been to.

I’d like to follow this up by respectfully suggesting that FIRST as an organization look into a method of measuring volume levels in the stands and pits, and testing and applying these safe noise levels to all events, in coordinating and cooperation with the event hosts.

Here is a great pamphlet designed for musicians on safe hearing levels, presented by www.hearingconservation.org


The problem is that we’re doing small amounts of damage - that accumulate over time - to our YOUNGER kids. Because their hearing is so much better to begin with - they don’t notice the damage or tinnitus after the event as much as an adult who’s already lost some of their hearing might. They don’t have to struggle to hear the person next to them because their hearing is great to begin with. The adults who were wearing earplugs or covering their ears in Philly were doing so because they were smart enough to know that they risked permanent damage - the kids aren’t always so aware of the dangers - that is the role of the adult mentors and FIRST organizers.

I was especially concerned that after a fairly large contingent of people complained to the event organizers and staff - and the sound crew. We were shrugged off - nothing was done to lower the volume to a less painful level. It’s a serious safety issue - and not one limited to Philly. The FRC event in Rochester was also pretty loud.

And it’s not necessarily the music - it’s just that if the music is playing at volume X you have to have the announcer miked to volume X+10 to hear them. JUST the music (except during certain videos) was loud but not painful. But the combination of music, and a loud, somewhat distorted, announcing voice was painful.

I can see were you are coming from, but I have to say that I would disagree. I have been to appx. 5 regionals plus championships and I have to say that all of them were at a decent level(aka. loud enough to get the excitement, but then not to loud.). Also if the sound person at a competition is running it as loud as you were stating, he should be questioned, I have only seen a sound man push the system around 150db at a huge concert(and that was with v-dosc rig, so basically that thing can go to 180db with no problem). There are lots of ways to get a sound system to sound louder with out increasing db levels.

But like I said before I agree that if its uncomfitbel with the levels just let them know, most of the they like to hear what other people think. But remember sound guys has one of the most stressful jobs at an event(this most likely does not apply with a FRC regional).

I am applying the standards listed in the articles above - please read them, these are reputable scientific articles on safe levels of noise - not people’s opinions. According to the articles - permanent hearing loss occurs if you are exposed to sound levels that require you to raise your voice to be heard at a distance of 3 feet, or if ringing/muffled sounds occur after the event. Both of these were true. They define the “pain threshold” at 140db. I can tell you that - under the speakers at Philly - it was painful. And I was not the only one that thought so. I also said that continuous exposure at only 100db should not occur for more than 2 hours. It’s both the volume AND the duration that matter when it comes to hearing loss. The articles above indicate that anything more than brief exposure to sound levels over 100db can cause permanent hearing loss.

We were basically told to “go away” by both event staff members and sound crew when we raised the issue. The sound crew was particularly rude, despite the fact that I was asking them very politely to consider whether the volume was too loud in parts of the stand. Nothing was done to lower the volume, and no one from either staff or sound crew came to the stands to measure or adjust the sound during the event.

I’ve been to literally dozens of concerts in my life - including some totally ripping techno concerts where you could feel the floor vibrate from the bass (I was - of course - wearing earplugs). I’ve certainly heard loud before :slight_smile:

I don’t own a dB meter, nor am I an audiologist. But I have a pair of ears and can implement simple tests per the above recommendations.

Since I’ve seen first hand when things first get setup, I can say that that FIRST isn’t the one who decides how high the volume goes. The A/V crew (obviously) sets all that up. With that in mind the day before practice matches these guys are doing all sorts of sound checks and mic checks and all that and adjusting accordingly. There is no set standard since different venues are of different sizes thus one needing more sound / volume then another).

When they do all this testing their doing it when the place is empty when all but the field crew is there. Chances are those sound levels they adjusted on setup day will change come practice day and so on and so forth b/c more or less people are there.

In any case to simplify the matter - ALL you have to do is find the A/V Table (Which more often then not is by or close to the field) and tell them where to turn it down a notch and they’ll happily adjust to your taste (they did for us in LI). If they should turn you away as you stated then find the regional director (which if I’m not mistaken supersedes event managment) and tell them to talk to the appropriate people into acknowledging your request. By right no one should be turned away when a complaint is made b/c it is in fact a safety and health hazard. You can also look for someone wearing a SRE shirt (Show Ready Event Shirt) and voice your complaint - I suggest going to the regional director though - They’re the ones who set the event up, then the chain forms from there I think.

Seeing how I get to Queue teams next to giant sub-woofers and speakers (ground level!) I can see where your concern is and agree that at certain events the noise level can be excessive esp if your working next to the source and not just sitting underneath / in front of it.

I’m inclined to agree about the volume being too high. I typically sit in the stands at a fair distance from the speakers…but I can hear the music/announcer at louder than the radio playing about two feet from me (which isn’t that loud right now–the dorm room would amplify it if it were much louder).

Also, if you think it’s a safety issue, find the safety judges (green FIRST polos). If you say it’s a safety issue, they will help you deal with it. Show Ready Events or Sargent could also help. Definitely anyone in a dark blue FIRST shirt (Regional Director and FTA, usually, or their assistants).

The noise level probably varies from regional to regional. If the noise level that you are describing it as is really how loud it was at your regional, then you should talk to the regional director or assistant. At the Silicon Valley Regional for the past two years, the sound is not that bad. Many elderly people have come and say that they enjoy the event and would like to come back (even many with sensitive ears).

Having been to many FIRST events, I’ve noticed that the noise level does vary. I think both the LA and San Diego regionals this year were reasonable. FIRST has rules about the behavior of people at FRC events, including the use of “noisy devices” (read “Site Restrictions”).

I have known of A/V people who use a dB meter. What would it take to own one? I decided to do a quick shopping trip on the Internet. Radio Shack sells one for around $50. It only measures from 50 to 126 dB SPL, and is not intended for OSHA or ANSII-type standards. You would use it to calibrate your home stereo, or as one reviewer noted, to prove to your kid that his or her iPod is indeed too loud.

Professional-level meters start at a few hundred dollars and skyrocket up in price. I suppose you could use a hobbyist-type meter as a screening device to back up your pleas to the AV folks to “turn it down.” You could also use it to try to find a spot in the stands where the sound level is more tolerable. But it does hurt when you encounter people who just don’t care that they are damaging the hearing of countless young people. :frowning:

hmmm. Checking internet to see if there’s a radio shack w/in walking distance… Seriously thanks for the suggestions - especially regarding whom to approach. I spoke with people with white “Crew” shirts on, a person in the pit area with I believe another white shirt, and the sound crew themselves. I will seek out the safety or event managers if the situation repeats itself today

1311 is definitely with 1511 on this one.

My observations -

The Peachtree is generally just about right. At the very opening ceremony this year it was too loud for a few minutes but fine the rest of the way.

At the Palmetto in Columbia in 2006 and 2007 it was just way too loud. Double that if you sat in the central rows around the arena, directly in front of the speakers. This year I don’t know because it moved from Columbia to Clemson.

Another indicator - Last year after attending the Peachtree, the Palmetto and the Championship I practically lost my voice from having to speak so loudly. Took me a month to recover.

An example - ignoring your musical tastes…

A couple of years ago I took a group to a rock concert at the Phillips Arena and the sound level was absolutely obscene. The people working the venue told me it was actually lower than a concert a few days before. Most of the people in my group, adults and kids were wearing 33db ear plugs.

If you go to the Grand Old Opry in Nashville you will see what I think is an excellent example of how to manage sound. They really know what they are doing.

Excessive sound levels definitely hurts FIRST image with the older crowd. I’ve seen it happen already. Make sure your regional director is on the issue !!


Team 2062 has also observed (or should I say heard) the same concerns that you write about.

If you are in Atlanta, please stop by our pit. We will be handing out ear plugs to anyone who would like them.

Earplugs are a great idea!

Which events were too loud? If St. Louis was too loud please tell me. I’ll bring it to the planning committee’s attention and distribute the information that OSCubed provided.

I really do agree that it is often a bit too loud, and thanks for the suggestions on how to ask the crew to turn the music down. It’s really annoying when you’re on the field, and yelling at the top of your lungs, and someone still can’t hear you.

I honestly can’t say i’ve been to an event where the music was too loud… I was at NJ and Chesapeake this year. both events from the stands you could hear everyone around you fine, and hold conversations just fine. The only time it was a bit difficult was when we sat in the bottom rows one day at Chesapeake, which is to be expected, that whole inverse square law. And even then it wasn’t bad at all.

the only event i’ve been at that was WAY too loud was NYC last year. It was far too loud, even at the top of the stands. that was excessive.

you have to remember at that music has to be loud for people sitting in the top rows to hear. so if it’s too loud for you guys, I suggest sitting away form the field another 20 feet, and the sound will drop considerably.

edit: also, you claim volume levels of 120dB. Could you give us some more information, where did you measure this, at the field, at the top of the stand,s etc etc. Did you measure it at all, was it a guess, was it told to you by the sound crew.
120dB is about he noise a plain generates as it’s taking off, thats very loud.

Something which has not yet been mentioned is effects of music volume on the drive team etc. If you believe the music is loud in stands try standing in team queuing less than 10ft from the speakers. During Friday and Saturday I wear ear plug with 36db noise reduction (remember this means 36 orders of magnitude less) and still found the sound to be painfully loud. My team mates and I were shocked to find our pant legs oscillating several inches with the music due to the massive pressure changes.
For everyone who says talk to the AV people–they often will not listen or have unreasonable expectations of peoples hearing (or lack thereof). Unlike many teenagers I greatly value my hearing–this shouldn’t mean that I can not drive the robot.

I have been to a couple of FIRST regional competitions where I thought the volume was too loud. My phone has a cool decibel meter in it, and (I used to DJ for extra cash so I am geeky about this) I routinely check the sound level whenever there is loud music. At Buckeye I never saw a reading above 80 Db. And I didn’t have to strain to talk to anyone where our team was sitting or in the pits. Though I would still like to thank the Tiger Techs of 963 for the ear plugs they were handing out. At Buckeye, the position of speakers down for matches was such that the really loud sound was as you walked in (again, thanks to 963), but where the alliances waited for matches was below and between speaker sets, so the noise level was not that bad, meaning nothing close to the red zone on my meter.

I do think the sound is likely to vary significantly from regional venue to regional venue. Different systems and different accoustical properties. As I said, I have been to regional competitions as an observer at which the music was loud enough to do the old DJ trick of twisting up a bit of napkin for each ear. But the original post is dead on that, given FIRST’s emphasis on safety, it is something that each regional should examine to make sure the noise level is not dangerously loud.

Look for the people wearing the green polo shirts. I talked to your team as a Safety Advisor multiple times throughout the weekend (congratulations on the award btw, you guys did a fantastic job and had a great safety program) and never heard one complaint/comment about sound brought up amongst the discussions among ourselves as to what was being complained about as far as safety was concerned.

But I believe the first people you could come to find would be the Safety Advisors in the green polo shirts. Then we can relay that info to whoever controls the A/V aspects of the competition.

As a side note, 1511 does have a rather large team… and was very loud in the stands themselves, so that does add to the ambient noise in the whole venue.
Just something else to consider before just blaming the sound folks, or the announcers. The teams bring their excitement to the events, and that means a loud event. :wink:

Fact is this isn’t a science fair, nor a library, and it should have some energy (and sound level) to it.

Not to say that some of it can’t be controlled, but it’s not always the levels of the microphones, or the speakers that make an event “loud” at a potentially unsafe level.

Do we want to tell teams like 1511, 365, 341, or other particularly spirited (and large) teams to be quiet in the stands? Of course not.
Can we do something about the audio levels of the speakers, and the microphones if they are too loud? Yes.