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The first part of the chapter briefly reviews the services’ policies and programs to collect data on noise levels generated by equipment used by military personnel and the noise doses received by military personnel working in certain settings.
The sources of noise in the military are as varied as the activities carried out by the members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Since World War II, numerous measurements of the sound pressure levels in proximity to various weapon systems and other military equipment have been collected. In 1978, DoD established a requirement that each of the military services conduct sound surveys to identify and periodically monitor noise-hazardous environments (DoD, 1978). Requirements for maintaining data from noise surveys and exposure assessments have changed over time. DoD also has established design standards for noise levels of new materiel designed or purchased for the military services. The Air Force began requiring noise measurements in 1948 with its first regulation regarding hazardous noise: AFR 160-3, Precautionary Measures Against Noise Hazards (Gasaway, 1988). Dosimetry measurements began at selected airbases in the late 1970s (Fairman and Johnson, 1979). Starting in the late 1980s, various Air Force installations began automating their recordkeeping for sound pressure levels and dosimetry. Navy requirements for the collection of noise survey data date back at least to a 1983 regulation requiring noise measurements and personal dosimetry with appropriate equipment and calibration (Department of the Navy, 1983). Noise dosimetry data are routinely collected by local Navy medical units to perform exposure assessments and to make recommendations for placement of personnel into the hearing conservation program. In addition, each Army installation evaluates work environments for potential noise hazards from steady-state noise in industrial-type operations. Coast Guard noise surveys were part of the Coast Guard hearing conservation program by the late 1960s and early 1970s (McConnell, 2004). In 2005, as this report was being written, all the services were still using their own databases on sound pressure levels and noise dosimetry. Information on noise sources and noise levels in the military environment is plentiful and detailed but not complete and not easily summarized.
Table 3-1 provides examples of some of the measurements made since the 1950s of average sound levels found in ground vehicles and aircraft and peak sound pressure levels generated by certain weapons.3 On aircraft carriers, flight operations create an environment with combinations of aircraft noise, mechanical noise, and impact noise (Yankaskas and Shaw, 1999). The examples of noise levels associated with equipment and weaponry in the military included in Table 3-1 clearly demonstrate that there are many sources of high sound pressure levels in the military environment that exceed criteria for safe exposure. Appendix F provides an illustrative list of documents, most of which are available in the published literature or in electronic form from government sources, that report sound levels generated by a variety of military aircraft, vehicles, equipment, and weapons systems. Despite the existence of data on sound pressure levels generated by weapons and equipment, and dosimetry estimates of noise exposure for certain personnel, arriving at an estimate of the cumulative noise exposure of any service member or group of service members is nearly impossible. Even for personnel assigned to a specific occupational specialty, it is reasonable to assume that the typical activities for an individual vary over time and that the activities at any given time vary among personnel at different military installations. The committee was asked to review the evidence that hearing loss has been incurred by members of the armed services as a result of noise exposures during military service since World War II. The available information proved to offer an incomplete picture of changes in hearing thresholds over the course of military service and virtually no direct measures of the noise exposure or noise dose for individuals or groups. Potentially damaging noise exists in the military environment, but assessing its effects on the hearing of military personnel is not straightforward.
An alternative would be to have longitudinal data obtained using consistent measurement tools to track noise doses and hearing thresholds for individual military service members, or at least defined subgroups, over the course of their military service.
Obvious sources of potentially hazardous noise are weapons systems and jet engines, but vehicles, other aircraft, watercraft, communication systems, and industrial-type activities also serve as sources of potentially damaging noise. In addition, information has been collected on estimated noise doses for personnel working in steady-state noise.
By 1987, the requirements included provisions for measuring noise exposures for workers exposed to noise levels of 85 dBA or more (DoD, 1987). The DoD instruction does not require measurement of noise doses associated with military activities, whether actual operations or training exercises. In the most recent version of these standards (DoD, 1997), the stated purpose is to lead to equipment that minimizes noise-induced hearing loss, permits acceptable speech communication in a noisy environment, minimizes aural detection by an enemy, minimizes community annoyance, and provides acceptable habitability of personnel quarters (DoD, 1997). By 1956, regulations required the use of either direct measurement or published data to plot master plans of bases to indicate where exposure to hazardous noise might occur. They include combat, combat training, and operation, testing, and maintenance of military equipment and systems, among which are weapons, aircraft, ships, submarines, missiles, ordnance, and tactical vehicles.
Under current procedures, such noise exposure data, in the form of time-weighted average sound levels, must be provided to the exposed individuals, the command, and the entity providing medical surveillance (Navy Environmental Health Center, 2004b).
Through the centralized Health Hazard Assessment Program, begun in 1980, new equipment is tested to assess various potential hazards, including noise, chemicals, radiation, and vibration. Since 1988, the sound pressure level and noise dosimetry measurements have been collected in the Health Hazard Information Module database of the Army’s Occupational Health Management Information System. Sound pressure level and noise dosimetry measurements made by the Coast Guard are provided to units in the form of written reports (McConnell, 2005). However, development of a DoD-wide database for recording, storing, and retrieving sound pressure level and noise dosimetry data, as well as information related to other occupational exposures, is in advanced stages. This database is intended to provide a longitudinal record of noise and other occupational exposures for DoD personnel.
Sound levels vary depending on the distance from the sound source and the conditions under which the sound is being generated.
Below the flight deck, sound levels have been measured at 106 dBA during aircraft launches.


Data on sound pressure levels, however, are not sufficient by themselves to determine the noise dose received by an individual. To an even greater extent than civilian workers, military personnel are not likely to experience homogeneous noise exposures over the course of their military service. In addition, members of the military frequently change assignments and may be exposed to different degrees of noise hazard in different work settings. To investigate this subject, the committee examined information from various sources, including studies reported in the published literature, reports prepared for the military services, and data from the military services’ hearing conservation databases, which were provided at the request of the committee. In the remainder of the chapter, the nature of the available data and their limitations are discussed, followed by a review of the data examined by the committee and presentation of the committee’s conclusions.
The committee was asked to identify sources of potentially damaging noise in the military setting and to review and assess available evidence on hearing loss incurred by members of the armed services as a result of noise exposure during military service since World War II. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the committee’s assessment of data on hearing thresholds and hearing loss among military service members since World War II.
In the late 1970s, the Department of Defense (DoD) established, as part of an overall hearing conservation program, a department-wide requirement for periodic surveys of noise-hazardous environments and, subsequently, requirements for noise dosimetry. Also included were separate specifications for the measurement of impulse noise and performance criteria for the measurement devices to be used. The design standards include limits for steady-state and impulse noise in occupied areas and noise from shipboard equipment and aircraft, including rotary-wing aircraft.
Data on noise levels of aircraft and other power machinery were published periodically by the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The designation applies to such operations as peacekeeping missions, field maneuvers, naval operations, and military flight. Current noise evaluation procedures (Department of the Air Force, 1994) require dosimetry for a minimum of 3 worker-days (defined as one worker for 3 days, or three workers for 1 day) to identify the average daily exposure. The dosimetry data are used primarily for local shop or worksite decisions, or occasional installation-level uses. To date, data on sound pressure levels are routinely collected at Navy and Marine Corps facilities but are not routinely transferred to a central database. Starting in 2002, noise dosimetry data collected for a variety of industrial, shipboard, and other naval operations, including Marine Corps activities, have been added annually to the Navy Occupational Exposure Database (Crowder, 2005). The measurements of sound pressure levels are used to estimate likely time-weighted averages during use of the equipment, but noise dosimetry is not carried out as part of this program. Dosimetry measurements are not routinely attempted for military-unique activities in the Army, in part because the impulse noise components are not readily measured by current instrumentation (U.S.
Introduction of the Defense Occupational and Environmental Health Readiness System–Industrial Hygiene (DOEHRS-IH) is planned for fall 2005 (personal communication, K. Important characteristics of impulse noise include not only the peak sound pressure level, but the time pattern of the impulses and the frequency spectrum. Exposure to high sound levels has also been reported for military personnel in positions such as radio operators (Robertson et al., 1990) and sonar technicians (Marshall and Carpenter, 1988) in the Navy and cryptolinguists in the Air Force (Ritter and Perkins, 2001). HMMWV, high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle; MAAWS, multi-role anti-armor anti-personnel weapon system. As discussed in Chapter 2, intermittent noise exposure may permit recuperation, thus ameliorating to some extent the hazardous effect of noise exposures. Among a sample of Navy enlisted personnel who served during the period 1982–2004 and were still serving after 2001, for example, the average length of service was 80 months, and time on shore duty averaged 40 months (Shaw and Trost, 2005). Each military service was responsible for collecting and maintaining information about hazardous noise environments and noise exposures. One notable compendium contains measurements from within cockpit areas of hundreds of types and models of aircraft (Gasaway, 2002; also see Gasaway, 1986). Compilation of such data across the entire Air Force is possible but is not done for routine analysis (Weisman, 2005). The test information is used to make recommendations regarding the need for personal hearing protection as well as possible restrictions on training time with the systems (personal communication, F.
In addition, military personnel may encounter potentially damaging noise from equipment and activities comparable to those found in industrial settings, such as the operation of heavy equipment (Chandler and Fletcher, 1983).
However, military personnel may also have noise exposures that are prolonged compared to those of civilians.
Finally, as described in detail in Chapter 5, wide variations in the effective use of hearing protection devices among military personnel can dramatically affect an individual’s noise exposure.
Many military sites had been collecting such information well before the DoD requirements were put in place. The data are not routinely used in the Navy’s overall hearing conservation program, but they are used on a case-by-case basis to respond to inquiries (Crowder, 2005). At sea, for example, sailors are exposed to ambient shipboard noise continuously and may encounter potentially hazardous noise levels even in their sleeping quarters, giving their auditory systems no opportunity for short-term recovery (Yankaskas and Shaw, 1999; Yankaskas, 2001, 2004).
This section briefly reviews DoD-level requirements concerning measurement of noise levels and noise exposure. It also reviews the services’ data collection activities and the availability of these data. The Army also has comprehensive data on sound pressure levels from weapons and equipment beginning from the 1970s and a more limited set of data going back to the 1960s.



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