Following April’s Tube Challenge attempt, EAVE – an organisation created to help with the prevention of avoidable hearing loss– has released some frightening data about the noise levels found across the London underground network. 118 stages of the underground route exhibit noise levels at which personal protective equipment would be recommended – or mandatory – in any corporate setting. On the track between Canary Wharf and North Greenwich, noise levels averaged a staggering 96dB with peak noise levels above 105dB– akin to a helicopter taking off next to you. A further eight stages across the network exceeded an average of 90dB. This raises the question of whether regular tube travellers are at greater risk of hearing loss than those who live and work outside of the capital, or use other modes of transport.
The Underground’s Noisiest Routes
With 11 out of 16 stages of the route exhibiting noise levels above 80dB – including seven at 85dB or more – the Victoria line is the underground route with the greatest potential to harm traveller’s hearing. To put that in context, if these noise levels were occurring in an industrial environment, the business owner would be obliged to provide personal protective equipment – or face legal action. Only one stage of the track – between Euston and Warren Street – was recorded as falling below 80dB. But the Victoria line is not the only track with noise problems.
More than half (14 of 25 stages) of the Bakerloo line has noise levels in excess of 80dB.
42% of the Central line would require the provision of hearing equipment in any other setting.
Four in ten Jubilee line stages exhibit higher than comfortable noise levels.
And twenty of the stages on the Piccadilly line have unacceptable noise levels.
Only the Metropolitan line bucks the trend, with a single stage between Baker Street and Great Portland Street exceeding 80dB. However, recording information was not available for three further stages of this track, which may skew the data. The District line was also a better performer, with only ten stages showing concerning noise levels.
Why Noise Matters
It’s an accepted truth that prolonged or regular exposure to high levels of noise is detrimental to hearing. According to the Health and Safety Executive, any environment in which noise levels reach 85dB or more should be labelled a compulsory hearing protection zone. While in places where noise levels of 80-84dB are present, hearing protection must be made available. Despite the fact that most people expect tube travel to be noisy, few would imagine that it might be detrimental to their long-term hearing. And yet those who regularly use the underground could find themselves at risk.
The EAVE Tube Challenge
This data was gathered as part of the EAVE Tube Challenge. On Wednesday 3rd April 2019, EAVE members raced to join the record books by trying to visit all of London’s tube stations in less than 15 hours and 45 minutes. While the existing record was not beaten with the team taking a full 18 hours to visit all of the stations, EAVE did manage to raise over £200 for hearing loss charities so far while also collecting this invaluable data.
EAVE founder and CEO, Dr. David Greenberg, comments: ‘While the noise level figures collected on the EAVE Tube Challenge were not wholly unexpected, the number of stages that exceed 85dB is concerning and we would like to see hearing protection and signage offered as standard on those stations and lines above 80dB.
‘The World Health Organisation estimates that unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US$750 billion. And yet most people remain unaware of the factors that could lead to deafness. Taking a few precautionary measures, including the use of protective equipment or noise reduction headphones on your daily commute, as long as the headphone output is at a safe level, has the potential to save you from a life-changing disability. We’re hoping that these figures will help draw attention to that fact.’
*TfL believes that Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests Tube noise is highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.