Whether it is exposure to an extremely high noise for a short period or to a low noise over many hours, noise at work can adversely affect a worker’s health and wellbeing.
While hearing loss is a condition that develops with age, it is brought on and exacerbated by exposure to excessive noise. It can happen gradually, or it can be sudden, leading to temporary or irreversible hearing damage. It has a severe effect on someone’s work and personal life, yet it is one of the most common preventable occupational health conditions across the world.
Hearing loss isn’t the only condition caused by exposure to loud noises at work. Loud percussive bangs or exposure to a very loud noise for a short period of time can cause acoustic trauma.
Tinnitus, often described as a ringing in the ears, is an early sign of hearing damage and can cause disturbed sleep and affect a person’s speech.
Exposure to excessive noise can also have negative impacts on the cardiovascular system, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and the release of catecholamines (including adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine) in the blood. Catecholamines are associated with stress and may impact upon the body’s other regulating hormones such as insulin.
A foetus can be affected when a pregnant woman is exposed to loud noises.
There is some debate about what level of noise can damage human hearing which has led governments to set different threshold levels across the world. But noise that is below legal actionable levels can still adversely affect a worker’s wellbeing in the workplace.
The increasing prevalence of open-plan offices and work areas means that irritating noises become more of a concern to employers.
Irritating noises can be from all kinds of sources, including air conditioning noise, telephone ringtones, traffic, nearby construction and other workers’ conversion.
These can be considered as environmental stressors and can not only affect worker’s health through stress but can lower productivity due to distraction. A recent article has shown that in some open-plan offices, noise ranges from 60 to 65 decibels. However, the German Association of Engineers recommend that a limit of 55 decibels is required for what is termed as ‘intellectual work’.
What can be done to reduce ‘irritating noise’? Solutions include:
So, there are many solutions for mitigating ‘irritating noise’ in the workplace. As with many controls, it is important to choose the most appropriate for your organisation and its operational circumstances. Obviously cost and effectiveness play a major part in this choice.
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