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Workplace Noise Negative Impacts

Noise Reduction for a Safer Workplace

Employers are responsible for the health of their employees at work, and this includes caring for their hearing. If a workplace has a high level of noise, including loud music in entertainment venues, it is essential that appropriate steps are taken to protect the hearing of the company’s employees. Failing to do this could cause permanent damage to their hearing and result in legal action being taken against the business.

Most jurisdictions, including the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK, have specific legislation that allows workers whose hearing has been damaged because of workplace noise to sue their employers.

A typical example of this is Section 113 of the Australian Capital Territory’s Work Safety Regulation which states: “This section provides that a person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace commits a strict liability offence if the person does not undertake a number of specific actions in relation to noise management.

“The duty holder must properly maintain noise control measures at the workplace, give workers at the workplace information and training about noise control measures …and ensure that any personal hearing protectors given to a worker are used and maintained.

The Evidence Against Noise is Overwhelming

Studies have shown that exposure to noise acts as a stressor, activating physiological factors that, over time, can produce adverse health effects. Although all of the effects and mechanisms are not clearly understood, noise can elevate blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR), and can produce both acute and chronic health effects.

A study of the effects of industrial noise on resting HR and BP in more than 3000 blue-collar workers found that following four hours of daily exposure to noise, the mean resting HR in male workers exposed to high levels of noise was higher than the HR in workers exposed to low levels of noise. (The CORDIS Study, Kristol-Boneh et al, 1995)

Another study compared 37 people exposed to noise in the workplace with 36 non-exposed workers and found that BP and HR were significantly higher in the individuals who had been exposed to noise.

In addition, 18% of the 37 exposed individuals had irregular cardiac rhythms.

(Effect of chronic and acute exposure to noise on physiological functions in man, Singh et al., Int. Arch. Occup. Environ. Health, 1982).

Workplace Noise: The Enemy of Productivity

The Evidence Against Workplace Noise is Overwhelming

Studies have shown that exposure to noise acts as a stressor, activating physiological factors that, over time, can produce adverse health effects. Although all of the effects and mechanisms are not clearly understood, noise can elevate blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR), and can produce both acute and chronic health effects.

A study of the effects of industrial noise on resting HR and BP in more than 3000 blue-collar workers found that following four hours of daily exposure to noise, the mean resting HR in male workers exposed to high levels of noise was higher than the HR in workers exposed to low levels of noise. (The CORDIS Study, Kristol-Boneh et al, 1995)

Another study compared 37 people exposed to noise in the workplace with 36 non-exposed workers and found that BP and HR were significantly higher in the individuals who had been exposed to noise.

In addition, 18% of the 37 exposed individuals had irregular cardiac rhythms (Effect of chronic and acute exposure to noise on physiological functions in man, Singh et al., Int. Arch. Occupational Environmental Health 1982).

Employers are responsible for the health of their employees at work, and this includes caring for their hearing. If a workplace has a high level of noise, including loud music in entertainment venues, it is essential that appropriate steps be taken to protect the hearing of the company’s employees. Failing to do this could cause permanent damage to their hearing and result in legal action being taken against the business.

Most jurisdictions, including the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK, have specific legislation that allows workers whose hearing has been damaged because of workplace noise to sue their employers.

A typical example of this is Section 113 of the Australian Capital Territory’s Work Safety Regulation which states: “This section provides that a person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace commits a strict liability offence if the person does not undertake a number of specific actions in relation to noise management.

“The duty holder must properly maintain noise control measures at the workplace, give workers at the workplace information and training about noise control measures …and ensure that any personal hearing protectors given to a worker are used and maintained… (Noise management – duties of person conducting business or undertaking, worksafety.act.gov.au, accessed 10 May 2010)

What Can Employers Do About Noise?

Controlling noise in the workplace enhances worker productivity and protects employees’ hearing and health. This involves sounds from the outside as well as workplace-generated din. There are five steps that companies can take to reduce auditory disturbances.

  1. Identifying a Noise Problem

In a recent study, 70-percent of surveyed office workers complained about noise disturbances; only 19-percent of executives realized that the problem existed. Could this be true for your workplace as well? A comprehensive investigation should be conducted to identify sources of noise in a workplace. Begin with a walk-through survey to determine whether or not noise is a potential problem.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) offers a very detailed noise exposure computation methodology. It is generally considered to be a requirement for work environments where manufacturing activities actively contribute to the auditory environment. For the office environment, where there is little workflow-generated noise, assess a noise problem first with a common sense approach:

  • Does the loudness of the work area mimic a busy intersection during rush hour traffic?
  • Do you have to raise your voice to discuss an issue with a coworker who stands a couple of feet away?
  • At the end of work period people have to increase the volume of their radio or TV to a level that’s too loud for others,
  • After working for a prolonged period of time, employees find it difficult to communicate in a crowd or party situation where there are other sounds or many voices.

If there is evidence that supports potential noise problems in your workplace, enlisting the help of OSHA-approved sound meter devices is a good idea.

  1. Sourcing Noise Patterns

In a manufacturing environment, there are certain areas of the workplace that are significantly louder than others. The same holds true within the office environment. Breaking up the floor plan of the venue into sectors and assessing noise problems in this manner helps to localize possible solutions. For example:

  • Areas around machinery, including the office copier, are louder than areas set up as offices.
  • Cubicles are notorious for sound pollution, some of which is voluntary.
  • Areas open to the public, or areas that act as a thoroughfare for workers, will be noisier than areas that are off-limits to the majority of people.
  • Areas near windows, doors leading to the outside — and also those spaces adjacent to the parking lot area — will experience more noise than those spaces situated closer to the center of the venue.

Log the types of sounds that are the most distracting and highlight if they follow a certain pattern.

  1. Rearranging the Workplace to Limit Sound Exposure

Complex work tasks that rely on what psychologists term a “state of flow,” are the most vulnerable to distractions and noise interruptions. Take the workers who perform them out of the cubicle environment and place them into an office space closer to the center of the venue. This minimizes the impact of general worker-generated noise.

Place noisy office equipment close to the exterior walls, where noise is already higher due to outside traffic. Discourage collaborative efforts that span multiple cubicles; instead, set aside conference room space for this task. Separate manufacturing space from other areas of the operation with sound-proofing walls and doors. Place the employee lounge in an area where sound will not travel into cubicle spaces.

  1. Eliminating Employee Noise Contributions

The small radio in the cubicle is a great motivator for the individual worker, but it also contributes to the noise pollution that the worker in the neighboring cubicle experiences. One employee’s classical music is another’s distraction. Requiring headphones for workers who want to listen to music is a good idea, unless the job includes the use of headphones for business purposes. You may consider stipulating that employee-operated radios do not exceed a certain noise level.

In the same way, manage cubicle workers by curtailing the conversations that do not contribute to the work at hand. Some staff members do not realize that their voices carry and they may be discussing matters that are of no interest to a person three cubicles down. Ask employees to limit social interactions to break times; direct them to take all collaborative efforts to the conference room area.

  1. Investing in Quiet Computers and Silent Peripherals

A constantly ringing workplace phone should be relocated into the office of a worker tasked with answering it. Silent computing peripherals cut down on the clicking keyboards and humming power supplies. This technology greatly cuts down on the noise in the small one-room office and also the large multi-cubicle workspace.

Replacing currently used office equipment with quiet computing products is a rather large investment. Wait until it is time to replace outdated office equipment to do so — or if an OSHA test identifies the currently used peripherals to be main noise polluters.

Controlling workplace noise is a partnership between the management team, the workforce and workplace regulating agencies. Even if you go ahead and only change one of the offending noise generators in your work environment, there is a good chance that it will have a noticeable effect on workers and productivity.

Is There a Noise Problem in My Industrial Plant?

Industrial noise is usually considered mainly from the point of view of environmental health and safety, rather than nuisance, as sustained exposure can cause permanent hearing damage. Equipment used in a factory can be extremely loud. Everything from rotors, gears, fans, chillers, internal combustion engines, pumps, heavy machinery, etc., can be seen in industrial settings. All of this equipment can produce noise at decibel levels high enough to create environmental health and safety concerns.

Measures for controlling industrial noise are necessary to protect workers. Louder noise can also become a nuisance and may be considered noise pollution, in which case a community may require a company to take action and address it. When dealing with industrial noise mitigation, if possible, the goal is to always control the noise at the source by modifying the equipment itself or replacing it with a quieter model. However, for many companies, this is not always possible. Also, sometimes noise in a factory or industrial setting is the result of many machines running simultaneously.

Previous research has found that workplace noise led to severe health problems and resulted in significant increases in healthcare costs in many companies.

Noise Control

When an industrial operation is seeking compliance with OSHA noise regulations, the sound level regulation is a function of both sound level and daily exposure time. If the measurements reveal an excessive combination of sound levels and exposure times, a noise problem exists.

Depending on your budget and in-house capabilities, to find out whether you have a noise problem:

• It’s is always best to have an Industrial Hygienist identify the source of the noise and perform a noise measurement using proper instrumentation. Once you have their report, it can be given to a noise abatement company such as Acoustiblok who can help you find a solution using their soundproofing materials. If this is not an option:

• You can purchase a sound level meter, research how sound is measured and what the decibel levels mean, perform your own tests, and compare the results with OSHA noise workplace standards. If outdoor, also compare with your local city noise ordinance noise levels. If this is not possible:

• Another method is to try to talk comfortably with someone about 3.28 feet away (1 meter) from the noise source. If you can, there is probably not enough plant noise at that position to damage hearing. But if you, or others, must raise your voice above normal conversation levels (about 70 decibels) or shout to be heard or understood at close distances (between .6 foot to 1.3 feet (20 to 40 cm), plant noise at that position probably can cause hearing loss and you should have the sound levels there measured with suitable instruments.

• If you are certain you have a noise problem, some soundproofing material companies, like Acoustiblok, have in-house acoustical professionals who will assist you in determining your noise problem and with finding a soundproofing solution.

It’s also important to check noise traveling out of the noisy plant area as well. If personnel in other parts of the plant complain, you should investigate and measure the levels of the sound they hear. If plant neighbors complain, or if local authorities say the sound exceeds applicable noise ordinances, a problem may exist and measurements are called for.

Once A Noise Problem is Identified

Remember that the sound is a form of energy. Your goal therefore is to reduce the amount of sound energy released by the noise source, or divert the flow of (sound) energy away from the receiver, or protect the receiver from the (sound) energy reaching the person. In other words, all noise controls work at the noise source, along the noise path, or at the receiver.

Once you have identified and measured the source of noise, you are ready to consider what can be done to control the noise. When you can’t modify the equipment itself to mitigate the noise, the next best options are to block and absorb the sound using modern soundproofing systems.

The presence of reflecting surfaces (walls, floors, ceilings, and equipment) in an industrial workplace results in the build-up of sound levels in the reverberant field. By controlling the reflected sound (i.e. by preventing the reflections), reverberant field sound levels can be reduced. Generally, the reflections are prevented by use of these acoustically absorbent materials applied directly to wall or ceiling surfaces or suspended from the ceiling.

The key to noise control is finding the control that is both effective and fits your budget. You should know not only what controls can work, but also know how costly the controls are to design and install.

Some acoustical soundproofing companies, like Acoustiblok, use leading noise prediction software, such as DataKustik’s Cadna-A and Cadna-R, to develop acoustical models of the soundproofing solution being proposed before it is purchased and installed for some complex noise problems.

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2017-11-09T15:17:22+00:00