Sounds can be so loud that they can damage a person’s organs and nerves, which happens often during festivals or nightlife, but also at work. This not only involved loud noises, but especially prolonged sounds. As a result, many employees don’t notice damaging sounds until the damage has been done.
Irritating and damaging sounds can cause physical and psychological complaints. Common complaints are loss of hearing or tinnitus (hissing/beeping in the ear), as well as tiredness, stress, lack of concentration or even depression can be caused by noise pollution. In virtually all cases, it affects people’s sick leave and productivity.
It also affects people’s alertness and thus: safety. People are less able to hear moving vehicles and signals. Even when there is no damage, noise can seriously affect production and collaboration, which is why it is advisable to deal with irritating and damaging noise as adequately as possible.
How to handle the source of the risk?
Limiting the sound at the source is always to be preferred. When less noisy alternatives are available, it is always better to select those. And replace the machine or other tool by a quieter version.
What are organisational measures?
A noisy machine that cannot be replaced by a less noisy one can, in some cases, be moved. By increasing the distance to the employees, the impact of the noise is reduced. An advantage is that it only required a one-time action.
Cover the sound source
Insulating the noise is a good alternative. By placing a cover or fence around the machine, it is possible to reduce the noise, the advantage being that the distance does not have to be increased. A drawback is that each machine or activity has to be insulated. In addition, not all noise can be reduced sufficiently.
What are individual measures?
Which personal protection gear can be used?
|110 dB||direct||nail gun, circular saw, electric hand drill|
|100 dB||5 min||grinder, leaf blower, motorcycling (100km /h)|
|90 dB||1 hour||drum kit, cutting torch, bulldozer|
|80 dB||8 hour||vacuum cleaner, city traffic|
|70 dB||>8 hour||mixer, shaver, car, busy office|
|60 dB||-||piano playing, conversation, washing machine|
Legally speaking, a person can be exposed to sounds with a maximum of 80 decibel for a maximum of 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week. Under those circumstances, most people will not experience damage or adverse effects.
However, as soon as this sound level increases, it quickly becomes dangerous. With every 3 decibels, the sound doubles, and with it its impact. Which is why people can only be exposed to 83 decibels for four hours a day (or 20 h/week) without protection. A level of 103 decibels can damage a person’s hearing in less than 5 minutes, which is why, with an average exposure to sound of 80 decibel, hearing protection is recommended, and necessary at 85 decibels, to limit the impact of the sounds on our ears.
Rights and obligations
Workplaces with a lot of noise (from 85 decibels) have to be clearly marked. Employees are obliged to wear hearing protection. From 80 decibels onward, employers are obliged to provide their employees with hearing protection.
Exposure (after measures have been put in place) can never exceed 87 decibels. If that is the case, measures have to be taken at once to prevent it.
In the RI&E, attention is paid to exposure to sound. The level and duration of the sound are determined, as well as the potential health-related impact. The company’s works council has to be involved in this investigation and in any measures that need to be taken.
Providing information about noise pollution is mandatory. To prevent hearing impairment, your employees have the right to have an expert conduct a hearing test.
- To get an impression of what the noise levels are in the workplace, the following rule of thumb can be applied: If you need to raise your voice for people to be able to understand you at a distance of 1 meter, noise levels are at or above 80 dB (A).
- Preferably measure all work station, because the sound impact can vary per situation. Also measure locations that are less obvious, for instance the doorbell near the reception area, the parking lot where trucks race past or the buzzing server room.
- Use a high-quality calibrated sound meter. If your measurements deviate by 3 decibels, that can have enormous consequences.
- Do not measure a perfect work environment, but measure standard situations, where colleagues are shouting, trucks are driving by and the radio is on!
- When you measure 79 decibels or less, there is no need to take additional measures at that point. However, if you are close to the 80 dB boundary, you should repeat the measurements a number of times over a longer period. That way, you can be sure you didn’t conduct the initial measurement on a quiet day, believing that no further measures were needed.
- Also pay attention to irritating sounds, which can also have social and psychological consequences.
- Use a good measuring device, because a minor different in the number of decibels can make a huge difference.
- Do not measure a perfect work environment, but measure standard situations, where colleagues are shouting, trucks are driving by and the radio is on.