A Guide to Noise Exposure in the Workplace

As an employer, the safety and well-being of your employees should always be a top priority. If you operate in an industry where excessive noise is a potential hazard, understanding government guidelines is crucial. But with so much technical jargon and intricate details, it can be overwhelming to navigate this legislation alone. That’s why we’ve crafted this comprehensive guide to help you make sense of the noise-related safety requirements in the workplace.

Why is Noise Exposure Harmful?

To understand the negative effects of excessive noise, you need to first comprehend the process of hearing and how sound is measured.

How Do We Hear?

The hearing mechanism is quite complex. Sound waves travel through the outer ear and middle ear as vibrations and are amplified before reaching the inner ear. The cochlea, a tiny sensory organ, converts the vibrations into an electrical signal that is then transmitted to the auditory cortex for interpretation as sound.

When your ears are exposed to excessive noise, the cochlea’s delicate hair cells and membranes can sustain damage and ultimately die. If the inner ear and auditory nerve are affected, the damage can lead to permanent hearing loss. As such, it is paramount to safeguard the hearing of workers in potentially noisy environments.

How is Sound Measured?

Sound is measured in decibels (dB), with 0 being total silence and 140 dB being the threshold of pain. Bear in mind that the decibel scale is logarithmic, meaning a 3 dB increase equals a doubling of the sound level, and 10 dB is perceived as twice the volume. For instance, 80 dB is comparable to a noisy restaurant, while 100 dB is similar to the sound level of a low-flying jet.

Sound is measured as A-weighted decibels, also referred to as dBA to represent how humans perceive loudness, considering that we’re less sensitive to low frequencies. This scale adjusts for this sensitivity and represents the loudness of sound as perceived by the human ear. You may also come across C-weighted scales which measure sounds with a peak level above 100 dB. However, to discuss noise-induced hearing loss, we must use the units dBA and dBC.

Knowing these levels is vital to protect hearing in loud environments.

How Does Noise Affect Mental Health & Wellbeing?

Experiencing ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and loss of hearing are not the only concerning health issues resulting from exposure to excessive noise. According to various studies, noise is a leading cause of stress for people who work in loud environments and can contribute to different conditions including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and weak immune system in addition to affecting mental health. As such, it is imperative to pay attention to noise levels in the workplace.

What is Considered a Dangerous Noise Level?

To prevent hearing impairment, we must consider not only the dBA level but also the duration of exposure. Exposure to 85 dBA for more than 8 hours can cause permanent damage, while a brief exposure to 120 dBA can lead to immediate hearing loss. Now it is easy to measure noise level using your smartphone apps.

What is the Legislation on Noise Exposure?

Legislation that establishes limits for occupational noise exposure is crucially important. Such laws protect not just the employees, but also the employer as they provide clear guidelines on what constitutes a dangerous noise level and what measures need to be taken to safeguard the hearing of the staff members.

What is the Current Directive?

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, which is rooted in EU directives, seeks to harmonize the protection of workers from the adverse effects of prolonged exposure to noise across all member nations.

Excessive noise can have adverse effects on individuals and we hope that this read has brought light to the important issues in this field, especially in workplaces.