Hand-held versus wearable meters

This is a right old can of noise-worms. If you are new to this it may help to have a read through the Time Weighting page as that has some relevant information on how a daily exposure can be calculated from short-term hand-held measurements rather than wearable meters worn all day. It's good stuff, honest.



Noise meters generally come in two forms, hand-held and wearable. (I will ignore light-up signs and stuff for now as they're not overly useful in a noise assessment which is the subject thrilling you at the moment). I use doseBadges as my preferred style of wearables so have a tendency to refer to all wearables as doseBadges but this term will also apply to anything else wearable. I will endeavour to be good and use 'dosemeters / dosimeters' when I mean that but no promises.

Here is a clear unambiguous statement on how the two fit together, and the rest of the text afterwards is all waffle explaining this:

Hand-held trumps wearable and wherever possible use a hand-held meter. Dosemeters (dosimeters) are mainly for situations where you physically cannot use a hand-held noise meter.

That's as clear as I can be - hand-held meters are better than wearable dosemeters every time and there are many good reasons for this. Dosemeters are beloved of noise assessment consultants though as you can stick a load of meters on people and disappear to the pub for a nice long leisurely lunch, then appear a couple of hours later and have a set of lovely graphs to put in the report, which if it is one of those reports where the quality is measured by thickness and weight must only be a good thing.

There are at best only a few occasions where wearable noise meters are either the only way to get a measurement or are the best way of getting a measurement.

Reasons why hand-held is best 

Interference - deliberate or accidental

If you are doing a noise assessment and pop a wearable meter like a doseBadge/dosimeter on someone and send them on their merry way, the second they walk away you have lost control of that assessment. You have no idea if their mates are shouting down it (they inevitably will be) or whether it has moved slightly and their collar is now rubbing against the microphone which will cause a massive spike in the results.

Even something as simple as the person wearing the meter talking a lot will impact the result as the microphone is close to their face - if you aren't there to see the data being gathered then for all you know most of what you've measured is an hour of someone chatting.

Identifying noise sources

A noise assessment is not just about measuring a number of decibels but also seeing what can be done to control noise and they have wandered off wearing a meter then you don't know what caused the result in the first place so identifying potential controls is impossible.

You also have no idea what job they were doing. They may supposed to be on a particular machine but you don't know if they've had a breakdown (the machine, not them personally), gone off to help a mate out, moved to another machine for a bit, or whatever. 

Basically, once they walk away all you get back is a dB(A) and dB(C) exposure pattern with little confidence in how it was obtained.

With a hand-held meter you know what caused the noises you are measuring and know that there was no interference, deliberate or accidental.

One of the esteemed and rarified beings who teaches Institute of Acoustics courses once told me that personal wearable meters should never be used for less than three weeks for any one measurement. Within that, you do one week of measurements and then throw those results away as the individuals concerned are certain to have fiddled with the meter or their mates will have pratted about with it, usually  by shouting at it. Once those results are binned then use it for another two weeks to iron out any other errors from their work routine. He is rather extreme in his dislike of personal dosemeters but the point stands, they are very unreliable.

Reasons why personal meters do have some use

So, that's pretty well established that dosemeters (or indeed dosimeters - never have settled on one spelling for that) and doseBadges and similar equipment are a big pile of unreliable pants, so why use them at all? Well, they do have some positives:

Mobile workers

A hand-held meter is all well and good, but not when you are measuring a highly mobile worker like a fork lift truck driver. I don't know about you, but I am more likely to sit in a corner and have a quiet heart attack than get a good result if asked to run about after a fork lift driver. Sticking a doseBadge or other dosemeter on mobile workers may have inherent negatives but it can be the only way of getting a good result that tracks them for a while.

Exposure patterns in noise assessments

Aside from mobile workers, the other main reason I use them in my own assessments is to identify patterns of noise exposure which I can then measure in more detail with a hand-held meter. My normal routine on a noise assessment is to look at the site and identify where seems noisy and stick a load of dosebadges on people. I then get on with some hand-held measurements and then after an hour or so get the dosebadges back and look at the data. From that I can see who has had any particularly high exposures then go and spend time measuring them with the hand-held meter, while using the dosebadges on other people. That way I use the personal results as a guide to where to focus the efforts with the hand-held meter, or use the hand-held to confirm the doseBadge result is good, but try not to always use the personal dosemeter result as the only result wherever possible

So there you have it, hand-held is best. And if you are now thoroughly confused how a hand-held measurement can help when the Regs set limits for eight hour periods, have a gander at the Time Weighting page of the noise measurements section as that has a walk-through of how this works. 

Recommended types of dosemeter / dosimeter

You'll notice I tend to use the word 'doseBadge' as a synonym for dosemeter / dosimeter, but they are different - a doseBadge is one type of dosemeter, and there are many types on the market.

I use the doseBadge model for several reasons:

  1. Unlike other styles, there are no buttons on the unit itself for people to fiddle with. The meter downloads its data to a hand-held reader when you are ready for it, but there is nothing on the meter itself for idle fingers to prod it.
  2. They are small so are less likely to be rubbed by clothing such as hoods, and less likely to get in the way for the wearer.
  3. There are no cables - some older style dosemeter have small cables which inevitably get caught up or pulled.
  4. They are bulletproof - I've used these things for years in noise measurements covering everything from -15 cold stores to rubber dinghies in the north sea, steamy factories to underground fuel stores, and they have just kept on working.

DoseBadges are available from noisemeters.co.uk, of course, but you will also see them from two manufacturers, Pulsar and Cirrus. The ones these two sell are exactly the same as each other so both are perfectly good.