Noise in the workplace is something many of us have to put up with. Whether you work in an office, hospital, factory or construction site. The constant hum of air conditioning, the clanking of a printer, or the deafening roar of machinery.
The noise at work regulations put in place noise action levels, limits you must not exceed, and action levels that require, well, action. But it is important to be aware of noise at any level. Too much noise is bad for your health, and in some cases, your safety too.
Find out more about the noise at work action levels and legal limits.
It probably doesn't surprise you that loud noises can harm your hearing. When we talk about the effects of noise at work, we are not just talking about loud noises. Depending on the type of work you do, even the slightest noise could affect your work. Let's consider some of the problems associated with noise.
Some 17,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, ringing in the ears or other ear conditions caused by excessive noise at work.
Noise at work can result in temporary or permanent damage to your hearing.
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears, caused by intense and high noise levels. It usually lasts up to 24 hours after the noise has stopped, but it can become permanent if you are regularly exposed to high noise levels.
Hearing loss can happen on a temporary basis from exposure to loud noises. Prolonged exposure can cause permanent damage. This hearing loss does not always result in full deafness - but makes it difficult to hear speech and certain sounds.
Both these ill-health effects of noise are usually found in workplaces with high noise levels that are not adequately controlled. Hearing damage can also come about due to a one-off exposure to very loud noises, like an explosion.
Noise can impact your concentration and break your focus. If you have ever tried to carry out some work that needs your full attention, but had workmen or children making noise, you have probably already experienced this.
If you are carrying out work requires absolute concentration, the distraction and disruption from noise can be pretty annoying, and make it harder to complete the task.
This problem can happen in a variety of workplaces, not just construction sites and factories. Call centres and other communal work areas can be constant sources of noise and distraction. With the rise of open plan offices, the person next to you making a phone call or eating loudly can impact your flow.
Interruptions to your concentration can be bad for your health, see stress below. It can also be bad for your safety, and others, if you are controlling machinery or other work that needs your attention to be done correctly.
If you are constantly losing focus due to noise, the work you do can be made 10 times harder. You might have to keep going back over it make sure it is done right.
Try reading a book while someone is talking at you, for example. In the end, you will probably give up because you can't focus enough on the words on the page.
Noise can also cause or contribute towards other work-related stress, causing a loss of concentration, fatigue, and tension, and increasing the risks of ill-health associated with stress.
Stress is really bad for your health and for business. Over 11 million days are lost at work in the UK each year because of stress at work, according to HSE statistics.
Can noise at work kill you? You might not think so. But what if, you can't hear an alarm going off, because you have suffered hearing loss, or because the machinery you are using is so loud you can't hear it?
What if you can't hear the reversing beeps from a forklift truck behind you in the warehouse, because of the noise from other equipment?
Noise at work can interfere with communications and make warnings harder to hear. It can also reduce people’s awareness of their surroundings.
If your work relies on team members being able to communicate with each other, noise can hinder that. If people are having to shout to each other to be heard, then the noise is probably too loud.
So, as it turns out, noise at work is bad for your health and your safety. Make sure you stay within the legal noise limits and assess the noise risks in your workplace. Consider areas where noise needs to be prevented and minimised so that work can be carried out safely.
Where you need to control noise, it is much better to reduce the noise at the source, protecting everyone, rather than just relying on PPE like ear defenders that protect the individual. A combination of control measures may be needed.
Download the noise at work toolbox talk to raise awareness of dangers of noise at work.