Understanding Noise Hazards and Managing Exposure

Discover what a noise hazard is, its types, implications to human health and the environment, standards that guide and govern it, and how one can manage or limit exposure.

a construction worker wearing earmuffs to protect himself from a noise hazard while working

What is a Noise Hazard?

A noise hazard refers to the exposure to excessive and prolonged levels of noise that has the potential to harm human health. It can be present in various settings, including workplaces, recreational activities, and residential areas. Typically, noise hazards are measured in decibels (dB), a unit of measurement for sound intensity.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set legal limits on occupational noise exposure in the workplace to protect workers from its harmful effects. Hence, noise hazards can be considered workplace hazards as workers in high- and low-risk industries alike get exposed to noise.

What are the Types of Noise Hazards?

Types of Noise Hazards

Various Types of Noise Hazards

While there are various ways to categorize noise hazards depending on the situation, level of exposure, and severity of their effects, the following are the most common noise hazard examples and types to note:

Occupational noise

This type of noise is generated in the workplace that can cause hearing damage and other negative health effects to workers. Typically, it’s produced by machinery, equipment, tools, or processes involved in industrial or manufacturing operations.

In addition to the direct health effects, occupational noise can lead to decreased productivity, communication difficulties, and other safety hazards. Hence, noise safety programs and control measures are encouraged and are considered the responsibility of employers to protect workers’ health and safety.

Recreational noise

This type of noise refers to the sound generated by leisure activities created and participated in by people for enjoyment and socialization opportunities. Such activities include the following:

  • Music concerts
  • Sporting events
  • Cultural festivals
  • Video arcades
  • Movie theaters

Recreational noise can lead to hearing loss, sleep disturbance, stress, annoyance, and other health problems. Also, it can have negative impacts on wildlife and disturb the natural soundscapes of ecosystems if proper measures aren’t implemented.

Environmental noise

This refers to any unwanted noise or excessive sound levels created by human activities or natural sources in the environment. While this can negatively affect human health, it can also disrupt the environment, including animal behavior and feeding patterns.

A few common examples of where environmental noise comes from are the following:

  • Transportation – road traffic, trains, etc.
  • Industrial activities – operating machinery, construction, etc.
  • Neighborhood – motorized gardening equipment, noisy house appliances, etc.

To mitigate such, measures such as noise barriers, zoning, and noise-reducing technologies can be used.

Impulse noise

This refers to the unwanted noise carrying a sudden sharp sound often caused by a brief, sudden increase in decibels. Some examples include a sledgehammer blow, explosion, or gunfire.

Also, this type of noise is most prevalent in the construction and demolition industries. Workers in these sectors use heavy-duty equipment and perform disruptive processes that create impulse noises.

Health Effects of Excessive Noise Hazard Exposure

It’s important to note that the severity of health effects depends on the intensity and duration of the noise hazard exposure. Some of these notable implications include the following:

  • Temporary and permanent hearing loss – While temporary hearing loss is usually reversible as the individual’s hearing returns to normal after a few hours or days, repeated exposure to a loud noise hazard can lead to permanent hearing loss.
  • Tinnitus – This is when an individual experiences a ringing, buzzing, or humming sound in one or both ears. The intensity varies and it can be temporary or permanent, and can affect a person’s quality of life, making it difficult to concentrate or sleep.
  • Hyperacusis – This is a condition where one becomes extremely sensitive to noise. Even moderate noise levels can be painful and uncomfortable, which is usually caused by damage to the inner ear.
  • Non-auditory health effects – Exposure to excessive noise can also lead to increased stress, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases.

Standards and Regulations

To help employers establish effective noise safety measures and provide a safe workplace, the following standards and regulations for each country or region apply:

Best Practices for Managing Noise Hazard Exposure

Some steps that employers can take are the following:

  • Proactively identify noise hazards and risks to create action plans in addressing them.
  • Implement noise control measures to limit exposure:
    • Engineering controls – noise barriers, mufflers, or silencers on machinery and equipment to reduce the noise
    • Administrative controls – scheduling noisy activities during off-hours, rotating workers to limit exposure time, or providing quiet areas for breaks
    • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – use of earplugs and earmuffs; proper fitting and maintenance of hearing protection
  • Train and educate employees on the risks associated with noise exposure, how to use PPE correctly, and how to identify and report problems.
  • Regularly monitor noise levels to ensure that controls are adequate and identify any changes in noise exposure that may require additional measures.
  • Inspect and maintain machinery and equipment to ensure that noise-reducing measures are functioning properly.

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Patricia Guevara
Article by

Patricia Guevara

SafetyCulture Content Specialist
Patricia Guevara is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. With her extensive content writing and copywriting experience, she creates high-quality content across a variety of relevant topics. She aims to promote workplace safety, operational excellence, and continuous improvement in her articles. She is passionate about communicating how technology can be used to streamline work processes, empowering companies to realize their business goals.