Media players like Apple's iPod will be set by default to a new, lower, safe volume level in Europe, according to a new rule passed by the European Commission on Monday.

The rule states that listening at 80 decibels adjusted should not exceed 40 hours per week, while 89 decibels should be limited to 5 hours each week. Settings on devices like iPods will be based on those criteria.

The new safety standards were approved in an effort to limit hearing loss among users of MP3 players.

A recent study of EU scientific committee shows that listening to music on players at high volume over a sustained period can lead to permanent hearing damage, and that 5 percent to 10 percent of listeners, are at risk.

Apple, which makes the iPod, and other manufacturers will be asked either to display labels advising users of the damaging long-term effects of loud music on their hearing or to devise a system of on-screen alerts triggered by the prolonged use of headphones at high noise levels.

EU standards are not mandatory, however if the new standard is approved by the European Commission and published in the Official Journal of the European Union, it 'de facto' becomes the industry norm, the commission said. Products meeting those standards are presumed safe -- otherwise manufacturers have to go through costly independent testing for products.

The new safety standards will apply only to future products, the commission said.

The commission sent a mandate to the European Union's standardization body on Monday, requiring that the new technical safety standards be drawn up, and implement the standard soon.

Scientists said that hearing loss is not likely below 80 dBA, which is equivalent to someone shouting or traffic noise.

Officials say that the maximum volume of music devices ranges between 80 and 115 decibels and that earphones can add a further seven to nine decibels on top by taking the sound straight into the ear. 

The proposals will be discussed with industry representatives before being finalized. They will be given time to make technological adjustments to the manufacturing process for products coming on to the market in two years' time.

In August, reports of exploding iPhones in Europe led the European Commission into an Apple-led investigation. Apple claimed the incidents as isolated cases, but will do tests to determine the possible cause.