The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) issued on Tuesday a new international standard for the manufacture and use of personal audio devices, including smartphones and audio players, to make them safer for listening.
The standard was developed under WHO’s “Make Listening Safe” initiative, which seeks to improve listening practices especially among young people, both when they are exposed to music and other sounds at noisy entertainment venues and as they listen to music through their personal audio devices.
The standard for safe listening devices was developed by experts from the WHO and the ITU over a two-year process drawing on the latest evidence and consultations with a range of stakeholders, including experts from government, industry, consumers and civil society.
It recommends that personal audio devices include “Sound allowance” function, referring to software that tracks the level and duration of the user’s exposure to sound as a percentage used of a reference exposure.
Also these devices should be capable of providing an individualized listening profile based on the user’s listening practices, which informs the user of how safely or not he or she has been listening and gives cues for action based on this information.
In addition, volume limiting options should limit the volume, including automatic volume reduction and parental volume control, while information and guidance to users on safe listening practices should be available, both through personal audio devices and for other leisure activities.
While urging governments and manufacturers to adopt the voluntary WHO-ITU standard, the WHO also underlines that civil society, in particular professional associations and others that promote hearing care, also has a role to play in advocating for the standard and in raising public awareness about the importance of safe listening practices.
According to the WHO, nearly 50 percent of people aged 12 to 35 years, or 1.1 billion young people, are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds, including music they listen to through personal audio devices.
It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people, or one in every 10 people worldwide, will have disabling hearing loss, posing an annual global cost of US$750 billion, though half of all cases of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures.
“Given that we have the technological know-how to prevent hearing loss, it should not be the case that so many young people continue to damage their hearing while listening to music,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“They must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back. This new WHO-ITU standard will do much to better safeguard these young consumers as they go about doing something they enjoy.”