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Safe music by default (“Pump down the volume!”)


28 Sep 2009


EU Priorities 2020
Health & Consumers

ANEC, the European Consumer Voice in Standardisation, asks the European Commission to set maximum sound levels in Personal Music Players (PMPs) that can be limited by default. However, we believe that, in addition to limits related to time-exposure, a sound limit of 89 dB(A) should be the maximum permitted by default in PMPs, with secured access to a second maximum of 100 dB(A). And warnings such as “do not listen at a high volume” or “do not listen for a long period of time” should not be used instead of safe sound limits, as they do not always deter consumers.

“This second maximum could be used only after deliberate manual activation (through entering a password) and is intended for people with hearing impairments to be able to increase the volume exceptionally” says Stephen Russell, ANEC Secretary-General. In the case of PMPs designed to appeal to children, we want to see the maximum sound level fixed at a level below 89 dB(A) where the risk to hearing is considered negligible”.

A European Commission scientific opinion showed that 5-10% of the users of Personal Music Players risk permanent hearing loss within the next 5 years due to excessive use1. Children and teenagers, who are habitual users of PMPs, are particularly vulnerable to high sound levels and need to be offered effective protection. Hearing loss from exposure to excessive sound levels from personal music players is an avoidable risk, unlike hearing loss from ageing or illness. As the damage caused by such exposure can be permanent and irreversible, prevention is imperative.

“At the moment, no technical standard defines a maximum sound limit for PMPs2” added Mr Russell. “Those now on the market can generate a sound level as high as 115 dB(A). By comparison, pedestrians are exposed to a sound level of 90 dB(A) from passing heavy traffic! If we consider that an alarm clock rings at about 80 decibels, and some people find that painful, it is self-evident that the 115 decibels at which music can be listened to with a personal music player is a very high level indeed.”

Having adequate information about the safety of music players should be essential for consumers. However, warnings and labels are increasingly used as substitutes for requiring a manufacturer to put safe products on the market, thus shifting the burden of protection on to consumers. Warnings should provide consumers with clear information on both the inherent hazards and related risks involved in using personal music players. But they should only be complementary to strict safety measures and not preclude the manufacturer from an obligation to ensure that personal music players do not present an avoidable risk to consumers.

At a stakeholders’ conference in January this year, ANEC urged policy-makers to set maximum sound limits for PMPs by default in order to prevent an entire generation of young consumers from hearing damage and other irreversible non-auditory effects such as learning and memory impairments.
Please refer to our detailed position for more information