Man with Megaphone
Photo credit: Very Quiet / CC BY-SA

Noise in the Workplace

Not all sound is noise. Noise is generally classified as a sound that you may find irritating and one that can cause stress by interfering with or distracting you from your work. In more extreme circumstances, noise can damage your hearing and cause long term hearing loss.

Hearing loss is one the most common of all industrial, work-related injuries. The severity of hearing damage or loss can vary from person to person but it is usually connected to the length and level of exposure. Short term exposure can result in hearing loss for a few days, whilst exposure over many years can result in permanent hearing loss.

Temporary hearing loss is generally identified as short term hearing loss or a diminished level of hearing, occurring after exposure to loud sounds. Other symptoms include a ringing in the ears or muffled hearing.

Long term hearing loss typically occurs when your ears have been exposed to loud and damaging sounds for such an extensive amount of time that your hearing does not recover. Alternatively, short bursts of excess noise over a long period of time can also cause long term hearing loss. Those suffering from long term hearing loss commonly fail or recognise or act on the symptoms until it’s too late and the damage has become irreversible. Warning signs include the inability to hear someone on the telephone or difficulty hearing something other people have no trouble hearing.

Most people believe that those most at risk of work-related hearing loss are those who work in the construction or engineering industry and spend much of their time exposed to loud machinery. However, the modern office also carries its own risks. For example, the blaring of the radio, conversation amongst employees, the tapping of keyboards and the ring of the telephone are all distracting, noisy sounds. Combine these sounds with the traffic in the streets outside and risk of hearing damage is significantly raised. In fact, noise is often cited as one of the biggest drains on productivity in today’s open plan offices.

Noise pollution isn’t only distracting but excess levels of noise can also be in breach of government issued health and safety legislation. The Control of Noise at Work Regulation of 2005 was issued to ensure that workers’ hearing is protected from excessive noise at their place of work. Failure to comply by the regulations can result in hefty fines for offending employers.

Fortunately, noise exposure can be controlled relatively easily and economically. The best way to understand how to reduce noise levels in your office is to instruct an expert who can perform an acoustic survey. An acoustic survey will identify the level of noise pollution and make sure your workspace is within the regulated allowance for office noise levels. The survey will uncover any offending zones and provide you with a bespoke solution to your sound pollution issues.

Noise levels can be softened by installing acoustic wall coverings, ceiling tiles and innovative wall panels. These furnishings can reduce reverberation levels or, when necessary, create a sound barrier. Thankfully, innovative modern design means that many of these sound reduction materials can be subtly integrated into the general aesthetic of any workplace, providing pleasing and protective additions to your office, without being too intrusive.