The fact of the matter is that noise isn’t just annoying, it can also reduce productivity, morale, and even cause actual harm at certain levels. Worker compensation claims are a very real possibility if employees experience hearing loss due to noise levels on the job.
Of course, noise can also simply disrupt communications among employees, and cause an increase in fatigue and accidents, or reduce quality of life for workers.
Noise is such a serious health concern that the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety has created a guide to preventing occupational hearing loss, in which they state that noise reduction should be addressed on two fronts: preventing the noise in the first place where possible, and where not possible, creating barriers or providing noise safety equipment to employees.
Sources of Noise
It’s often entirely possible to reduce or eliminate noise at its source. In acoustical terminology, this is called point-source noise, which is noise produced by kinetic activity with a definite origin, as opposed to overall noise, or noise with many sources that is less easily controlled, such as the sum of noise from conversations, small machines, and tools.
Very often overall noise consists of various smaller machines operating, or humans performing kinetic actions, or a combination of both, such as what’s commonly found at a construction site, for instance. A good example of point-source noise is that produced by a generator at the same work site.
The qualities of the noise itself also has to be considered, since noise at different frequencies have different negative effects. Whether the noise is reverberating from various surfaces also plays a part, particularly in how disruptive it is of communication.
Reducing Exposure to Existing Noise
What can be done about these things? In some cases you can prevent the noise from being created in the first place, such as by encouraging employees to speak at a lower volume, or installing vibration-absorbing mounts for machinery, but this has limitations. The ultimate reality is that some noise is inevitable, so the real question is how to reduce exposure to it for your employees, once it’s created.
The primary ways of doing that are to create noise barriers and sound absorbing surfaces. Using the construction site example above, a noise-reducing box can be purchased for the generator to be placed inside of, but how would you reduce exposure from the sound of nail guns and other overall noise? Since construction workers are always moving from site to site, the only solution may be protective noise cancelling ear muffs.
However, in other environments where the work takes place in the same space over time, various sound absorbing wall panels, dividers, and even sound-proofed walls can eliminate much of the noise exposure of these work environments.
Inevitable, but Not Insurmountable
Noise issues are not limited to industrial environments, they are also frequently present in places like restaurants, auditoriums, gymnasiums, churches, and similar spaces. Not only can it cause actual harm, but also is detrimental to the purpose hoped to be achieved in that space, even if it’s simply the ability to sit down and have a nice lunch in a cafeteria.
However, with proper acoustical treatment, much of this harmful noise can be greatly reduced, resulting in happier and more productive workplaces.