You do not get used to noise, you gradually loose your hearing...
Every day, millions of people around the world are exposed to noise at work and all the risks this can entail. While noise is most obviously a problem in industries such as manufacturing and construction, it can also be an issue in a wide range of other working environments, from call centres to schools, orchestra pits to bars.
One in five of Europe’s workers have to raise their voices to be heard for at least half of the time that they are at work and 7% suffer from work-related hearing difficulties. Noise induced hearing loss is the most common reported occupational disease in the EU.
Anyone who is exposed to noise is potentially at risk. The higher the noise level, and the longer you are exposed to it, the more risk you have of suffering harm from noise. In manufacturing and mining, 40% of employees experience significant noise levels for more than half of their working time. For construction, the proportion is 35% and in many other sectors, including agriculture, transport and communications, the figure is 20%. It is not only manufacturing and other traditional industries where noise is a problem. Noise is recognised as a problem in service sectors such as education and healthcare, bars and restaurants.
- A study of noise in kindergartens found some averaging noise levels over 85dB
- During a performance of Swan Lake, a conductor was recorded as being exposed to 88dB
- Truck drivers can be exposed to 89dB
- Staff in nightclubs can be exposed to up to 100dB
The above information from European Agency for Safety and Health at Work shows that many workers across a large range of industries daily are exposed to noise levels that sooner or later will give hearing problems if proper hearing protection is not being used.
Exposure to noise may pose a variety of health and safety risks to workers:
- Hearing loss: Excessive noise damages the hair cells in the cochlea, part of the inner ear, leading to loss of hearing. "In many countries, noise-induced hearing loss is the most prevalent irreversible industrial disease." It is estimated that the number of people in Europe with hearing difficulties is more than the population of France.
- Physiological effects: There is evidence that exposure to noise has an effect on the cardiovascular system resulting in the release of catecholamine and an increase in blood pressure. Levels of catecholamine in blood (including epinephrine (adrenaline)) are associated with stress.
- Work-related stress: Work-related stress rarely has a single cause, and usually arises from an interaction of several risk factors. Noise in the work environment can be a stressor, even at quite low levels.
- Increased risk of accidents: High noise levels make it difficult for staff to hear and communicate, increasing the probability of accidents. Work-related stress (in which noise may be a factor) can compound this problem.
Protect yourself from noise-induced hearing loss
You rarely hear the saying, 'It's so quiet, you can hear a pin drop' anymore. Perhaps that's because it's rarely so quiet — not at home, not at work, not even in recreational areas such as our national parks. We are surrounded by sound. More specifically, we are surrounded by noise.
'Noise' is loosely defined as annoying sounds, but one person's sound may be another person’s noise. Loudness, which is the sound power level, becomes ten times higher for each ten decibels increase in sound levels. To better understand this, consider that a whisper registers approximately 30 dB and normal conversation about 50 to 60 dB, while a ringing phone may be 80 dB and a power mower 90.
For better understanding about noise and noise levels, download the Noise Thermometer.
A single, very loud sound (such as an explosion or gunshot) can cause noise-induced hearing loss, but most people get it from regular exposure to sounds of 80 dB and above. Whether noise is encountered on the job or in the community, most people are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss if they don’t take precautions.
Download documents and read more about Noise and Hearing Protection.