5 Workplace Noise Hazards and How to Protect Against Them

6/1/21 - Zoro Staff

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common workplace injuries. Especially for employees working in manufacturing and construction, repeated exposure to loud workplace noise hazards can increase the chances of suffering from permanent hearing loss. Therefore, it is important to identify noise hazards in the workplace, which are noises beyond the harmful noise level of 85dB.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 40-year exposure to noises over 85dB can increase an individual’s risk of developing hearing loss by 8%. To promote worksite safety and prevent employees from developing chronic hearing difficulties, enforce the use of protective equipment and take appropriate noise control measures in the workplace.

Statistics on Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Occupational hearing loss is a serious form of workplace injury; however, it does not receive much attention since the injury is not noticeable.

Yet, in the United States: 

  • Hearing loss has become the third most common chronic physical condition among adults, and a significant percentage of that has been a result of occupational noise hazards (CDC). 
  • Nearly 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work (CDC). 
  • Around 12% of the working population suffers from hearing difficulty (CDC). 

Most Common Workplace Noise Hazards

Even though certain industries—such as construction and manufacturing—carry greater risks for dangerous levels of noise exposure, every workplace environment has the potential to expose workers to noise hazards. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that every employer understands what constitutes overexposure to noise and how to prevent it. 

1. Loud Ambient Noise

Loud background noise can often go unnoticed since prolonged exposure makes employees become accustomed to it. However, this is where the danger lies. Since employees are not acutely aware of these noises, they are less likely to use protective devices to prevent hearing loss.

Ambient noise can be present in every workplace. Some examples include: 

  • Noisy machinery and technology at hospitals
  • Blaring coffee grinders and blenders at coffee shops
  • Loud conversations and background noise at bars 

 2. Prolonged Noise Caused by High-Power Tools

Contractor with head phones on working on a jobsite

High-power impact tools such as hammers, air impact wrenches, nail guns, and drills are all common causes of noise hazards. For workers who are involved in construction projects for long periods of time, continuous exposure to these loud noises can cause irreparable damage to their hearing. 

Though noise hazards caused by power tools tend to impact construction workers the most, people who live in close proximity to construction sites can also be affected. Due to the nature of construction work, it is especially important for employers in this industry to take preventive measures to reduce noise hazards.

3. Music at Concerts and Sports Venues

Compared to loud construction noise, loud music and entertainment sound effects might not be as unbearable. However, exposure to these noises can still cause detrimental effects. Employees who work long hours at these events, including the artists themselves, are especially susceptible to the effects of noise exposure. 

Moreover, due to inadequate knowledge, participants at these events do not use protective devices to protect their auditory system, which increases the risk of hearing loss. In fact, less than 8% of U.S. adults wear hearing protection devices at loud entertainment or athletic events.

 4. Aviation Noise

Aircraft takeoff can exceed 140dB and cause tremendous damage to the ears if no hearing protection devices are used. For flight attendants and pilots who are routinely exposed to high levels of noise as a part of their jobs, their hearing could be permanently affected since sound levels in the cabin can often exceed 90dB. 

Though ground crews at the airport are equipped with hearing protection devices, flight attendants and pilots are not required to wear them. As flight technology improves, flights are becoming increasingly long which means higher chances of noise-induced hearing loss for aircraft workers.

5. The Noise of Military Equipment

Military personnel are often exposed to high levels of noise due to the nature of their work. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), as of 2012, the most common disabilities caused by military service were hearing loss and tinnitus, making noise-induced hearing loss in the military a serious issue that needs to be addressed and prevented. 

Many weapons and machinery used in the military often emit sounds that exceed the hazardous noise level of 85dB. With prolonged exposure, the consequent hearing loss not only affects military personnel’s ability to perform on duty, but can permanently affect their wellbeing in everyday life. 

Dangers of Occupational Noise Hazards

Construction worker putting ear budsApart from hearing damage, noise hazards at the workplace can also result in other serious health issues.

Stress

Constant exposure to loud noises can increase stress hormone levels and induce the body’s fight or flight response. As levels of stress increase, workers might become even more susceptible to other health problems and chronic conditions.

Risk of Heart Disease

Studies show that prolonged exposure to noise activates the inflammatory response in the brain which, in turn, increases cardiovascular risk and illness. Even constant traffic noise can be detrimental to the human body (NCBI).

High Blood Pressure

As cortisol and adrenaline levels increase under stressful working conditions, arteries become constricted. As a result,  blood pressure increases, as does the risk of heart attacks. According to research published by the CDC, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels are common among employees who work in loud environments.

Depression and Anxiety

Being exposed to loud noises at work on a daily basis can have a substantial negative impact on mental health. In fact, researchers discovered that people who suffer from noise annoyance have a two-fold higher chance of experiencing depression and anxiety.

How to Protect Against Occupational Noise Exposure

Construction worker putting on protective ear gearOccupational noise exposure can cause irreversible hearing loss and serious damage to the body, but the good news is that it is preventable. By taking proper precautions and preventive measures, both employers and employees can protect themselves and each other from the above-mentioned health consequences.

1. Set Up Sound-Absorbing Acoustic Barriers

Setting up a physical barrier between employees and loud noise is a straightforward way to prevent hearing loss caused by noise exposure. For example, sound-absorbing curtains and walls are both effective in reducing high-decibel noise. 

2. Enforce the Use of Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment is the first line of defense against most types of workplace injuries, including acoustic trauma. Whenever employees are required to work in loud environments, it is the employer’s duty to provide adequate hearing protection to ensure workers’ safety. 

Though it is the employer’s responsibility to enforce safety procedures in the workplace, employees should also be responsible for their own safety by complying with safety policies.

3. Modify or Replace Noisy Equipment

In industries like construction and mining, the use of heavy machinery is unavoidable. However, there are still ways to ensure the noise of this equipment is reduced to a minimum. For example, using vibration dampers and silencers to reduce machines’ internal vibration and keep noise levels low can help prevent excess noise.

4. Limit Employees’ Time Spent in Noisy Areas

Spending a short amount of time in noisy environments might not cause much hearing damage. However, employees who spend hours a day under these conditions can quickly suffer from hearing loss if no protective equipment is used. 

To minimize the risks of employees suffering from irreversible damage to the ears, employers should restrict the number of hours that each employee spends next to high-decibel noises. 

 

Excessive noise is a common workplace health hazard that needs to be addressed. Every employer should identify noise hazards in the workplace. Then, they should take preventive safety measures to minimize the risk of noise-induced injuries among employees. Here are some tips to protect against noise hazards in the workplace.

Since employees are the most valuable resource of an organization, workplace safety should never be taken lightly. Noise-induced hearing loss is an irreversible damage, and to ensure each employee’s wellbeing, employers should always make the effort to develop proper safety protocols and invest in hearing protection equipment.
 

Sources: | CDC | NCBI |

 

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