Is the Apple Watch Noise app a good thing and could it help workers stay healthy?
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
So the Apple Watch has a Noise app on it. The world has gone whoopsadaisy about the latest heroic innovation from sunny Californ-I-a. So we won’t be the first to comment on this or be pleased at the general direction that Apple is taking. Bravo, team.
bbbbbbut….what if my ears aren't on my wrists?
The Apple Watch Noise app also fits into the whole wearables and hearables revolution that is increasingly improving accessibility and awareness of your health. Again, so far, so good. But.. wait a minute.....how does something you are wearing on your wrist stand to prevent damage to your ears?
…aren't smartphones and earphones the bad guys?
Clearly not, but we have to bear in mind that smartphones and their earbuds that we stuff in our ears for hours a day are quite possibly having a bigger impact on hearing health than anything else on the planet today. (And its not a good impact, by the way).
Consider that anyone who can listen to their tunes via earphones at 100dB (and they easily can), is at risk of causing irreparable hearing damage in minutes. We don't see that the Noise app makes a positive contribution in this space.
Will Apple Noise app protect against ambient noise?
And no this is not about Brian Eno....but just as you may like to put Brian in a soundproof box to shut him up, if your watch is up your sleeve or under your cuff, some of the noise just ain't going to get to the microphone. So can you rely on what Apple Noise app is telling you?
So - if we assume that your average Jo(e) has their sleeves rolled up, then we at WorkScreen understand that the apple noise app will let you know when things are getting loud. GREAT! Sleeves down, however, and Jo(e) may be wandering around in louder noise than they think. Not great and certainly not preventing hearing loss. And this is before we get into more nitty gritty like:
what are the alert levels? - we read online that Apple Noise app will alert you at 90dB. This is significantly higher than the advisory action level for wearing hearing protection at work in the UK (80dB). (If this sounds trivial, consider that every 3dB is double the sound energy and thus allows only half the exposure time before hearing damage may set in.)
how and to what extent is the Noise app calibrated? Chances are that Apple Noise app is not calibrated, which likely means it is not exact.
The Apple Noise app is a great gadget and it most certainly will help raise noise awareness - Yay! However, does it "protect hearing"? Ummm no it doesn't. Is Apple Noise app suitable for work? In common with other uncalibrated noise meters, it is not a professional product (and makes no claim to be), which means it is not something to protect worker hearing.
So while WorkScreen shares the vison of making hearing tests more accessible, WorkScreen's focus is on making professional, calibrated, high quality hearing tests in the workplace easier and quicker. Which means that the established protocols - underwritten by UK law - remain the best way to protect worker hearing:
reduce noise where you can
conduct risk assessment (where is the noise and who is at risk)
provide hearing protection
provide hearing tests (this is where WorkScreen comes in)
.....and by the way, we love Brian Eno (total legend)