High noise levels are bad for your health, as they can lead to physical and psychological damage.
Physical harm includes hearing damage and certain hearing conditions like noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Noise is also very annoying and can lead to more aggressive or irritable behaviour. Not to mention, high noise levels at work can decrease productivity as you are much less focused.
Employers have a duty of care to reduce the effects of noise the best they can, and where appropriate. Noise regulation needs to be preventative, and part of a wider organisational policy.
When sounds become harmful to health, it becomes known as noise pollution.
A long exposure to loud noises can lead to NIHL, tinnitus and other physical problems.
NIHL is caused by high noise levels permanently damaging structures inside the ear. However, it may not be immediately noticeable, as it can take many years to develop. The condition is variable, as it can “be temporary or permanent, and it can affect one ear or both ears”. You may also get NIHL from one very loud noise, like an explosion. However, you can also get it from working with loud machinery on a daily basis at work.
Loud noises can also cause tinnitus. This involves “hearing noises that are not caused by an outside source”.  This commonly takes the form of a ringing sound when the room is quiet. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a serious hearing condition, but it is certainly irritating.
Other physical problems are related to stress, and can include “constriction of blood vessels, tightening of muscles, increased heart rate and blood pressure”. A rise in blood pressure can increase the chance of suffering from a heart attack, if the situation is serious enough.
One study even concluded that you are more likely to develop a type of non-cancerous tumour that causes hearing loss if you are exposed to high levels of noise at work.
High levels of noise can be very frustrating, and lead to stress-related psychological problems.
Loud, constant noises are very annoying, and can stress someone out quite easily. Stress can lead to trouble sleeping, which will make the whole situation worse. You are more likely to internalise a problem and avoid taking it up with a manager or boss. Although it may not be obvious, managers need to spot the signs of stress before they escalate. This is because it may also cause other psychological problems, like depression, anxiety and mood swings.
Physical problems may also cause psychological ones, as a person with hearing damage “may tend to isolate himself, feel lonely and, in extreme cases, even succumb more easily to depression”. It may also cause other physical problems, as being stressed lowers the strength of the immune system.
Because you focus on the noise, if you are at work, it can be very distracting. This means you are less productive, and your work will suffer. If you experience stress as well, this will make the situation a whole lot worse as you lack confidence in your work. This really just highlights that it is in the best interests of both employee and employer to prevent noise-related health problems.
For more information about preventing these problems and forming a policy in your organisation, you can refer to our eLearning guide. The guide will prepare your employees in preventing noise problems and provide general noise awareness compliance tips. Compliance with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 1989 (as replaced by the 2005 version) is extremely important for avoiding penalties.