Studies of three popular race tracks in the U.S. show, that NASCAR fans, as well as the pit crews and drivers, are repeatedly being exposed to extremely dangerous levels of noise. The legal noise level in the average eight-hour work day is 85 decibels, but that limit is being broken by between 50-900 times - with a sound pressure of up to 140 decibels.
The study shows, that race team members such as drivers, mechanics and other pit crew members, are exposed to 12-21 hours of intensive noise each week, up to 40 weeks in a row.
Director Dr. John Howard from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. says the research findings are important and should be heeded.
"Drivers, pit crews, and other workers at NASCAR's tracks are justifiably proud of being part of a tradition that millions of people enjoy. At the same time, it is important to be aware that occupational exposure to excessive noise can lead to hearing impairment and tinnitus, and that protections are available and recommended for lessening this risk."
Spectators also at risk
The team from NIOSH determined that spectators are likely to suffer from greater hearing impairment because they are exposed to louder noise than the driver, who is usually protected by using custom-moulded earplugs.
The team's measurements show that spectators are surrounded by 96 decibels of noise during a race, which is two to 10 times higher than a person working a 40-hour week at the maximum allowable limit of 85 decibels. In the pits, noise can reach up to 130 decibels, a level often experienced as the human hearing threshold for pain.
The researchers, research engineer Chucri Kardous and Thais Morata, a research audiologist, stress that the hearing damage on those involved or watching the races is cumulative and irreversible.
"Most people love the noise, are attracted by it because they relate it to power and many know the risks involved," says Thais Morata, "but they may not know that the damage can be permanent."