Did you know that workplace noise has a major impact on workers' health and presents serious risks of occupational accidents? Apart from hearing loss, exposure to excessive noise levels also has other repercussions, some of which often remain unknown. In this article, we will discuss the immediate and long-term impact of a noisy work environment. We will also offer effective and easy-to-implement solutions to reduce noise levels.
Little-known health effects of noise exposure
The most well-known consequence of prolonged exposure to excessive levels of noise is undoubtedly noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is a type of acquired deafness and is defined as “a complete or partial loss of the ability to hear from one or both ears.” As mentioned in our article on key elements in factories, “he steady noise level permitted for a full eight-hour work shift … is 85 dB(A) in most jurisdictions, but it is 90 dB(A) in Quebec and 87 dB(A) for organizations that follow the Canadian federal noise regulations.” Beyond that threshold, there is a long-term risk of causing hearing damage.
In 2018, 40 accidents were directly caused by noise exposure. The effects of excessive noise can manifest themselves in the short term or even immediately. Moreover, excessive noise can cause non-auditory effects, as it triggers physiological reactions such as stress, hypertension, increased heart rate and sleep disorders. Noise also negatively affects work performance.
Although excessive noise can have immediate effects, hearing loss usually happens over time and often causes irreversible damage. The figures speak for themselves: in 2018 alone, 8,213 cases of occupational diseases linked to hearing were reported. This represents an increase of 1,022 cases compared to the previous year.
For the most part, high-risk sectors include the manufacturing and resources industries, both of which use a wide variety of machinery, apparatus and equipment that can sometimes be excessively loud.
Effective solutions to reduce noise
Although wearing ear plugs and other hearing protection is essential in any work environments where noise levels exceed provincial standards, the most effective method remains to reduce noise at the source. This is also supported by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: “The surest methods of preventing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is to eliminate the source, or to reduce noise at the source by engineering methods.” Besides controlling noise hazards, this method also enables workplace optimization.
“The goal should be to reduce steel-on-steel friction as much as possible by using shock-absorbing materials, particularly plastics.” – Alex Frenette-Tremblay, Eng.
Concrete examples of noise reduction:
- Installing shock absorbers to reduce the impact noise of steel metal parts
- Replacing stainless steel gears with high-performance plastic gears. In addition to absorbing shocks and reducing noise levels, certain plastic gears also reduce friction thanks to their self-lubricating property.
- Installing plastic side bars, chain guides and bushings to reduce friction and noise while optimizing production.
Reducing noise creates a healthier workplace by also minimizing work-related stress. For a safer work environment, crucial elements such as structures and machine guards should be considered, as they can seriously impact the health and safety of workers.