How to Reduce Noise Hazards in the Workplace
When you think of workplace-related dangers, loud noises probably aren’t at the top of the list. However, noise hazards are definitely worth taking seriously; neglecting to do so can have some serious consequences for both individuals and companies. Long-term exposure to noise hazards can cause a wide range of health issues, some of which are permanent.
From a company’s perspective, unsafe workplaces contribute to low satisfaction, high turnover rates, complacency among employees, and even increased worker’s compensation settlements stemming from workplace-related injuries. Fortunately, a combination of a robust safety culture and practical solutions can significantly reduce noise hazards – and their consequences – for any workplace.
In this Article:
- The Definition of a “Noise Hazard”
- Common Sources of Noise Hazards
- The Dangers of Noise Hazards in the Workplace
- Practical Steps to Reduce Noise Hazards
- How Could Your Workplace Reduce Noise Hazards?
According to Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, a workplace should not expose employees to sound levels in excess of 84 decibels for any period of time that’s long enough to potentially damage their hearing. In more exact terms, an employee’s noise exposure level can’t be more than 84 decibels (on average) during 16 hours of a 24-hour period. If this limit is exceeded, it’s up to the employer to take any necessary steps to protect employees’ hearing.
There are several different ways of accurately measuring noise levels, but it can also be “guesstimated” pretty easily. If two people are standing three feet apart and have to raise their voices in order to be heard, the ambient noise level is likely too high. Whenever this happens without the proper safeguards being in place, safety measures should be implemented. Whether that be hearing protection, noise guarding, or isolating systems.
If you’re talking about noisy workplaces, one of the most obvious examples would be construction sites. There you can find anything from pneumatic drills to jackhammers to sandblasters being used – and they’re all extremely loud.
That being said, plenty of other workplaces have excessive levels of noise. Have you ever been to a bar that was so loud you couldn’t even hear yourself think? Now imagine working a 10-hour shift in that environment! Noise hazards can be found at landscaping jobs, carpentry shops, rock concerts, busy restaurant kitchens, and countless other workplaces.
As previously mentioned, noise hazards are no joke. They can result in serious health consequences, which may or may not end up being permanent. Each person will be affected differently, but here are some of the health issues that can stem from prolonged exposure to a noise hazard:
- Partial loss of hearing due to nerve damage in the inner ear (this is permanent)
- A progressive decrease in their ability to concentrate
- Poor sleep quality, leading to fatigue
- Increased stress and anxiety, which can lead to further health issues
Given how different each work environment is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any noise hazard. Even so, there are several different solutions that are quite effective when implemented correctly.
- Foster awareness on the risks of noise hazards – If only a few people in the workplace (such as managers or supervisors) are aware of the importance of limiting noise hazards, there’s a much higher likelihood that workers will be accidentally exposed to excess levels of noise. If everyone’s on the same page, though, this will promote a stronger safety culture and decrease the risk of damage from noise hazards.
- Perform regular maintenance on machinery – It isn’t just effective; it’s cost-effective too! Maintaining machinery is just common sense, but it can reduce noise hazards. Machines are often responsible for generating excess levels of noise, but in some cases, it’s simply due to parts that need to be lubricated (especially if some parts are metal-on-metal).
- Limit exposure to the noise hazard – Sometimes there’s just no getting around the need for workers to be in noisy environments. If that’s the case, shift managers can schedule employees so that they’re only exposed to higher noise levels for limited amounts of time. Its good to limit exposure even if hearing protection is provided.
- Isolate the noise hazard – If a loud machine doesn’t require people to operate it, it can be moved to a separate space, or even enclosed where it sits. This can also apply to machines that only require a few people in order to operate; workers can use earplugs or earmuffs and take limited shifts, while the rest of the workforce remains unaffected by elevated noise levels.
- Use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – This step is supposed to be a last resort when other strategies aren’t possible to implement. High-quality earmuffs or earplugs (often used in tandem with each other) can significantly reduce noise hazards, but they also reduce hearing in general. This hampers communication and makes it much harder to get someone’s attention or call for help if there’s a problem.
Maybe you’re around loud machinery all day – or maybe the noisiest thing you typically hear is the traffic outside your office building. In any case, it’s crucial to stay aware of the dangers of noise hazards in the workplace. Noise hazards are one of the top concerns for workplace safety, but they’re also something that many people brush aside. With a better understanding of both the risks and the solutions for noise hazards, you’ll be able to foster a safer workplace – and hopefully a quieter one as well!
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