Safe Listening Devices

January 2020.

Safe Listening Devices are audio devices designed to be safe for the user to listen to their music/etc without damaging their inner ear. The new standard was created by the World Health Organization and later promoted in 2019 as a way to improve hearing health globally so that people are less likely to suffer from hearing loss or need hearing aids.

Features of WHO-ITU Standard Safe Listening Devices

  • “Sound Allowance” function: Software that tracks the level and duration of the user’s exposure to sound as a percentage used of a reference exposure.

  • Personalized Profile: An individualized listening profile, based on the user’s listening practices, which informs the user of how safely (or not safely) he or she has been listening and gives cues for action based on this information.

  • Volume Limiting Options: Options to limit the volume, including automatic volume reduction and parental volume control. This way parents can monitor how loud their child is listening to music and make certain they are not damaging their ears. For the personal user who is worried about damaging their ears they can set the maximum volume to a level that is sustainable and non-damaging.

  • General information: Information and guidance to users on safe listening practices, both through personal audio devices and for other leisure activities.

    The standard was developed under WHO’s "Make Listening Safe" global 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 WHO-ITU standard for safe listening devices was developed by experts from WHO and 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.

    WHO recommends that governments and manufacturers adopt the voluntary WHO-ITU standard. 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 so that consumers demand products that protect them from hearing loss. The WHO-ITU toolkit for implementation of the global standard for safe listening devices provides practical guidance on how to do this.

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