Effects of a Noisy Environment

Noise pollution impacts millions of people on a daily basis and it has been identified as a health hazard in the workplace. It is important to understand the difference between noise and sound. Noise is an unwanted sound that is unpleasant, loud or disruptive to hearing. 

Types of noise

  1. Continuous noise – is produced continuously (machinery, equipment, heating  and ventilation systems)  
  2. Intermittent noise – increases and decreases rapidly (a passing train, aircraft flying over your house) 
  3. Impulsive noise – is a sudden burst of noise that is fast and surprising (explosives, sledgehammer blow, gunshot) 
  4. Low-frequency noise – is easily spread for miles around and is the hardest type of noise to reduce at source (low background hum of a nearby power plant, vehicle engine). 

Exposure to loud noise can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbances, stress, acoustic trauma, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the year), hearing impairment or noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Noise pollution is an invisible danger, but an ever present threat to our health and well-being. Being able to identify noise pollution within the workplace, can help the OH&S team to decide if a noise control program is needed. Here are three simply environmental noise checks: 

  1. Workers must raise their voice to speak to someone, one meter (3 feet) away
  2. Increased workplace accidents because of noisy work environment
  3. Noise in the work environment is louder than city traffic

A noise assessment should be done when investigating a workplace accident. It could help the employer to understand what caused the accident, why it happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. In some workplaces, it is mandatory to wear hearing protection PPE such as earplugs and earmuffs. It can be stressful for a new employee to adapt to safety requirements, which could become a physical barrier to communication between coworkers.

Photo by Ivan.jpg

Photo by Ivan

The CSA Z107.56 (R2018) provides guidelines on noise measurements. The noise level must be measured in the right place, otherwise is not relevant. It is better to consult an occupational hygienist for a detailed analysis. Some workers are more at risk of noise pollution, because of where they work and the nature of their job.

Workers exposed to noisy environments 

  • Airport ground staff
  • Ambulance drivers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Construction workers
  • Healthcare professionals – dentists, dental assistants and hygienists  
  • Music festivals staff
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Welders 
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The most effective control of noise pollution is to eliminate noise exposure, in some cases, replacing a loud machine with a quiet one can resolve the issue. Engineering controls are a type of control used to reduce noise at the source. Companies can choose quiet tools and machinery. Placing a physical barrier between the noise and workers can be another solution. Some pieces of machinery need maintenance, so a periodical check is essential. Ear muffs and earplugs are the most common personal protective equipment.

By Gabriela Mancas, Occupational Health and Safety Consultant

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