How can I establish a reference level?

With now 350+ hours on my new rear end (I hope it is OK to call the new speakers that, given the common use of the expression front end for the source) I am trying to understand gain and how it relates to listening level. The terms reference level, anchor level, gain structure, dB, dBU, crest factor, etc. all form an ill defined blur. My interest is in protecting one of my five senses. No amount of money and equipment swapping will ever reclaim lost hearing! Now with oodles of distortion free headroom I need to be careful.

Specifically -
JBL 4367 - 94 dB, 300W
Benchmark AHB2 in bridged mono 380W
SONY XA5400ES Compact Disc Player

What I find is -24 dB set on the preamp (with 0 dB being no voltage gain or cut with respect to the source signal) is too loud on most recordings - especially Pop and Jazz. On the 1964 SONY Classical recording of Petrushka, Ormandy (SBK 47664) a gain of -24 dB is pretty realistic as it is on many other classical recordings.
Some recordings sound loud no matter what the volume. Take Jimmy Smith with Kenny Burrell (Phono 870267) for example (listening to him now @ -34 dB)
Much of my listening is far-field, though the speakers are only about 6' apart in an open floor plan of about 1200 sq. feet.

The inverse square law relating to how loudness decreases with distance from the source - how is it affected by a stereo pair? Get on axis near-field with the speakers and just try and keep your mouth shut. Awesome!

So I have a new definition of LOUD and I want to be careful and have some consistency.
I feel -24 dB is a good reference level and am wondering how that relates live sound and the recording process.

I felt heartened by the OSHA Guidelines. They are pretty liberal or hearing is pretty robust.
Duration of exposure is certainly an issue with home HiFi.
Mike, There really is no direct correlation between the -dB reading on your equipment and the loudness (dB) at your listening position. The levels set during the recording process are all over the map. There are many factors along the audio chain that also affect the final volume.
The audio industry typically measures at one meter as a standard. I suggest that you measure at your listening positions. Room gain varies. The loudness measured at one meter will be considerably louder than at three meters or at your listening position.
The RS meter is robust, durable and pretty accurate- use it as many here have directed.learn to read both the fast and slow for peak and average. Yes the average drives most hearing damage. The OSHA standard may sound conservative but I know and worked w many coworkers who might beg to differ - now.... they may have contributed, but hey we all know better than the scientists....

congrats on your system, enjoy !!!!!