European consumers will benefit from new default settings on personal music players set at safe exposure levels, as well clear warnings on the adverse effects of excessive exposure to high sound levels, following a decision by the European Commission. In October 2008, the EU Scientific Committee, warned that listening to personal music players at a high volume over a sustained period can lead to permanent hearing damage. 5-10% of listeners risk permanent hearing loss. These are people typically listening to music for over 1 hour a day at high volume control settings. It is estimated that up to 10 million people in the EU may be at risk. The European Commission sent a mandate to CENELEC (the EU standardisation body) requiring new technical safety standards to be drawn up.
EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, said, "It's easy to push up the sound levels on your MP3 player to damagingly loud levels, especially on busy streets or public transport. And the evidence is that particularly y oung people - who are listening to music at high volumes sometimes for hours each week- have no idea they can be putting their hearing at risk. It can take years for the hearing damage to show, and then it is simply too late. These standards make small technical changes to players so that by default, normal use is safe. If consumers chose to override the default settings they can, but there will be clear warnings so they know the risks they are taking."
Bridget Cosgrave, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, said, "Consumers' safety has the highest priority for the digital technology industry. DIGITALEUROPE welcomes the approach of the European Commission by using a science-driven process for development of standards. It is important that users have accurate information in order to make informed choices about how they enjoy personal music. DIGITALEUROPE looks forward to working with the European Commission and standards bodies to serve consumer interests."
The current rules
Existing EU standards currently prescribe no maximum sound limit nor require any specific labeling in respect of volume levels but require that a statement be put in the instruction manual to warn of the adverse effects of exposure to excessive sound level.
The new proposals - the mandate for new safety standards
The mandate, proposed by the European Commission with 27 Member States, covers all personal music players and mobile phones with a music playing function. It provides that:
- Safe exposure levels shall be the "default" settings on products. The mandate does not prescribe specific technical solutions in order not to stifle the capacity of industry to innovate. Instead it requires manufactures to provide that the default settings for normal usage meet safety requirements.
The mandate makes it clear that safe use depends on exposure time and volume levels. At 80 dB(A), exposure should be limited to 40 hours/week. At 89 dB(A) exposure should not exceed 5 hours/week.
The safe exposure levels defined above shall be the default settings on products. Higher exposure levels can be permitted, provided that they have been intentionally selected by the user and the product incorporates a reliable means to inform the user of the risks.
- Adequate warnings for consumers on the risks involved, and on ways to avoid them, including the situation when the original set of earphones is replaced with another type and this causes higher unsafe sound levels. The mandate is not prescriptive in terms of how this is done. Industry solutions could include for example - labels or digital information on the screen.
What happens next?
EU standards are drawn up by CENELEC (European standard setting body) in a process, involving scientists, industry and consumer groups as well as other stake holders, it can take up to 24 months. EU standards are not mandatory, however if the new standard is approved by the European Commission and published in the Official Journal of the European Union, it "de facto" becomes the industry norm. Products meeting those standards are presumed safe - otherwise manufacturers have to go through costly independent testing for products. The new safety standards will apply only to future products.
What can consumers do?
Personal music player users can already take certain very practical precautions, such as checking their device to see if a maximum volume can be set so as to keep the volume lower, or they can lower the volume manually, and they can take care not to use the personal music player for prolonged periods in the interest of their hearing.
In recent years sales of personal music players have soared, in particular those of MP3 players. Overall, in the EU, it is estimated that roughly 50 to 100 million people may be listening to portable music players on a daily basis. In the last four years, estimated units sales range between 184-246 million for all portable audio devices and range between 124-165 million for MP3 players. Across the EU, many millions of people use personal music players daily and, if they use them inappropriately, they put themselves at risk of hearing damage.
Adapted from materials provided by: Europa