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How to Reduce Noise at Work

Updated: May 5

a man suffering from loud noise

Some workplaces have a noisy work environment due to the type of work being carried out, such as in construction, factories or any job that uses loud machinery. If workers are continually exposed to loud noises in the workplace, it can cause significant health issues such as hearing loss and stress.


 

In this Article:



 

Why is Noise Reduction Important?

 

A noisy work environment can cause an array of short and long term physical and mental health issues for workers including hearing loss, migraines, tinnitus and increased anxiety, stress and fatigue.


Workplaces are required to implement various measures to reduce the noise to protect the workers’ health and wellbeing and optimise the workspace for a quieter and less stressful environment.


Loud noise in the workplace can also affect workers’ concentration which may lead to poorer productivity. It is in both the employer and employees best interest to effectively reduce the noise level at work to achieve improved productivity and maintain healthy workers.

 

 

The Legal Noise Limit at Work

 

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 aim to protect workers from excessive noise in the workplace. This regulation only applies to noise in the workplace and does not apply to members of the public exposed to loud noise from non-work activities.


When is Hearing Protection Required?

The regulation states that if the daily or weekly average level of noise is 85 dB(A), employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones.


When is Noise Awareness Training Required?

Employers must also provide risk assessments and appropriate training for employees when the noise reaches 80 dB(A).


Maximum Exposure Limit

The maximum exposure limit value is 87 dB(A) and workers must not be exposed to this level in any circumstance.


These legal noise limits ensure that the hearing and health of all workers are protected when they are exposed to loud noises in the work environment.


 

someone installing soundproof panels

Solutions to Reducing Noise at Work

 

Here are some of the most effective techniques that can be implemented to help reduce the noise level in the working environment:


  • Sound absorbing wall panels - Panels made of foam and can be expensive but reduce noise levels by absorbing sound. A cheaper alternative is cork which also does a good job of reducing noise.

  • Workspace screens and partitions - These are also effective as they act as a barrier to protect employees from the noise.

  • Isolating the noise source - Another effective option in which the work can be carried out in a specific area away from other employees.

  • Noise Cancelling Equipment - Employees can also be required to wear noise cancelling equipment such as earpieces to reduce the noise that can be heard at a close distance.

  • Maintenance of Equipment - Regularly maintaining the equipment can drastically reduce noise. Frequent lubrication and repair can go a long way to reducing sound.


Administrative Controls


There are also some administrative controls that can be implemented to help reduce the exposure of workers to noise at work:


  • Scheduled use of Machinery - Use loud machinery in shifts when there are fewer people at work to be exposed.

  • Limit Exposure Time - Limit the length of time a worker uses a machine or is nearby during the work taking place.

  • Quiet Areas - Provide employees with designated quiet areas away from the noise to provide relief.


 

Soundproofing Solutions

 

Soundproofing the noisiest areas in the workplace is one of the most effective solutions to reducing noise. There are certain soundproofing materials that can be used such as panels, curtains, absorbent materials and acoustic insulation which all have effective sound proofing properties suitable for different working environments.


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that the workplace layout can reduce noise exposure. Carefully planning the design of the area will include choosing the appropriate absorbing materials, screens and barriers and increasing the distance between the noise and the other employees.


The number of workers in particularly noisy areas should be kept to a minimum to reduce the exposure to noise and protect the workers.


 

person wearing hearing protection

Noise-Cancelling Technology

 

The most common piece of noise cancelling technology in the workplace is hearing protectors. Hearing protection should always be used in noisy environments as extra protection after other noise reducing controls have been implemented.


Hearing Protection Law

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 requires employers to provide their workers with the correct hearing protectors and provide training on how to wear the protection correctly and regularly maintain the protectors.


It is vital that employees do not wear hearing protectors that provide over protection. If the hearing protectors reduce the noise level to below 70 dB, this could mean that the employees become isolated from the working environment and are unable to hear communication or other warning sounds such as alarms and signals which can lead to a safety risk and therefore actually reduce their protection.


There are different hearing protectors which protect the ears depending on the specific A-weighted noise level by providing the correct single number rating (SNR) value. Employees must wear the correct ones for the level of noise in their workplace. This is essential in avoiding over protection and ensures employees are still able to hear communication around them.

 

 

Community Initiatives

 

Noise in the community caused by workers in the construction or factory industries must be regulated to reduce the nuisance and stress it can cause. Individual councils of each area in the UK often provide their own rules and controls which noisy work environments must adhere to effectively reduce noise in the workplace and surrounding areas.


What time are you allowed to make noise in the UK?

There is a law in place that stops construction workers from making noise outside certain hours, usually between 6pm and 8am which reduces the amount of inconvenience for surrounding homes and businesses that are affected by the noise.


 

Noise Related Injuries

 

The most common injury in the workplace due to excessive exposure to noise is hearing loss. Continuous exposure to loud noise without the effective measures put into place such as sound proofing the areas or wearing noise cancelling ear protectors, can severely damage hearing.


Here are a few examples of injuries caused by exposure to noise:

  1. Hearing Loss: Continuous exposure to high noise levels can damage the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that help transmit sound to the brain, leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss.

  2. Tinnitus: This condition causes a ringing, buzzing, or whistling sound in the ears when there's no external sound present. It can be temporary or chronic.

  3. Hyperacusis: This is an increased sensitivity to normal environmental sounds, making everyday noises painfully loud.


These injuries can either be temporary or permanent depending on how loud the noise was and how long the worker was exposed. Other health issues that can be caused by loud noise in the workplace include increased stress and anxiety.


Workplace accidents can also be caused by over protection from the noise as workers aren’t able to hear the sound of any warnings or alarms that are used to protect them from other hazards at work.


 

a loud busy office

Reducing Noise in the Office


Office workspaces can be loud due to conversations taking place and the equipment being used this can affect the productivity of the employees.


Effective ways to reduce the noise in the office:


  • Workspace partitions or screens

  • Use sound absorbing materials

  • Separate different areas for noisy activities

  • Effectively design the workspace to reduce noise

  • Choose the right flooring to reduce noise

  • Soft furnishings such as chairs can reduce noise

  • Use Plants to absorb sound

  • Incorporate soft key keyboards to reduce the noise


Noise awareness is vital in the workplace to ensure all employees are able to concentrate fully for optimised productivity that isn't affected by high levels of noise which could be avoided.


 

Control of Noise at Work Regulations


The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 were put into place to protect workers from loud noise at work and ensure employers have a responsibility to prevent and reduce health and safety risks due to noise exposure in the workplace.


Employer responsibilities:

  • Assess and manage risks regarding noise at work

  • Implement safety measures to reduce risk

  • Provide employees with the correct hearing protectors

  • Provide employees with appropriate training, information and instruction

  • Ensure legal noise limits are never exceeded

 

 

Industrial Sewing Machine Noise Reduction: (Crampton & Mcnulty, 1989)

 

In 1989, there was a case study produced by R. Crampton and G.J. Mcnulty on an industrial sewing machine that was installed into the laboratories at Sheffield City Polytechnic. The case study demonstrates the high noise level created by the operation of the machine and how they reduced the noise levels by following certain guidelines and implementing measures.


This successful noise reduction case study highlights the techniques incorporated to effectively analyse and therefore reduce the noise level produced by the industrial sewing machine.


 

reduced sound waves on computer

Emerging Technologies in Noise Control

 

There are various techniques and technologies previously mentioned which are used in the workplace to reduce noise levels. However there are some emerging technologies which offer alternatives to managing noise control:


  • Layer Damping Many machines vibrate and layer damping involves the placement of a damping layer between 2 metal sheets which is designed to dissipate the vibrations and reduce the noise level.

  • Nanotechnology Soundproofing Foam Foam has been used as soundproofing material for many years but now the technology has evolved to provide nanotechnology which turns sound waves into heat.

  • Intelligent Active Noise Suppression Similar to the original soundproofing panels, these intelligent panels are designed to counteract sound instead of blocking it.


 

Noise Awareness Training


Noise awareness training helps reduce the risk of injury through noise exposure, by making learners aware of the health impacts of noise and the importance of wearing proper PPE. The training aims to promote safe practices to prevent hearing loss and other noise related health issues.


a link to a noise awareness training course

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is White Noise?

How do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

How to Block Noise from a Shared Wall


 

Sources


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