Noise pollution is a long- and short-term risk to staff member’s health and safety in the workplace. Understanding how to deal with noise pollution in the workplace is therefore very important. Those most at risk include construction site workers, but pollution can occur in an office environment with a lot of external background sounds coming from nearby offices or busy roads. It can cause hearing damage as well as certain cognitive side-effects including a loss of creativity, lack of concentration and poor judgement. If certain constant sounds go above a specific number of decibels (85-87), it becomes illegal under UK health and safety legislation.
This is why it is very important for businesses to deal with high intensity noises in the workplace, as they may be penalised if found guilty of misconduct. Employees have the right to file for negligence against their employer if they experience physical or cognitive problems that affect their daily lives, so organisations may have to face huge pay-outs.
How can Businesses Deal with Noise Pollution?
Before following procedures aimed at minimising loud external noises, organisations should already have carried out a risk assessment and identified any hazards and potential areas for improvement. The Health and Safety Executive (H&SE) states that if a noise is ‘intrusive’ and members of staff have to raise their voices to speak when they are just 2 metres away from each other, there may be a noise problem in the workplace. If this is the case on a construction site or in other mid-to-high risk jobs, it may be a safety hazard if you are not able to clearly communicate with colleagues.
Organisations should know how loud noises are by conducting daily checks using a sound level meter in the office. If the number of decibels isn’t anywhere near the number that deems it unsafe, then this is an acceptable level and classed as an annoyance only. However, if it is above or around that number, it will be classed as noise pollution and therefore unsafe and harmful to health and safety.
If there are workers on a construction site, ear protection is an absolute must. According to Healthy Working Lives, equipment must be kept in quality condition, signs must be placed to show areas where they must be used, and employees must be trained to use them properly. Ear equipment should be used to ensure that sounds don’t exceed 85 decibels whilst they are on, as per the 2005 Control of Noise at Work Regulations.
If construction site workers are using old equipment, it will be “louder than new equipment” and so investing in new gear can help minimise the risk. However, if a business lacks the cash-flow needed to invest in new machinery, employees can be time-limited to the noisiest areas of the workplace to minimise the damage. Failing this, the workplace can be re-designed in order to separate workspaces from the areas with loud machinery.
As rare as this is, if the problem exists in an office, and there are excessive noise levels coming from a neighbouring construction site or business, organisations can minimise it to preserve productivity and safety. Employees will be more stressed out if there is a constant source of noise outside, and workflow will be interrupted. Aside from providing hearing equipment like noise-cancelling aids and sound barriers, businesses may want to make sure that in the future, walls and roofs are sufficiently fitted with sound dampening material.
Employers should inform staff members of all the dangers and risks of noise pollution, as well as include health and safety procedure in a written policy document that is widely accessible by all staff members.