Noise pollution and its effects is a term used to describe undesirable, intrusive and persistent high levels of sound caused by things like drilling or hammering in the workplace. Science Direct defines the term as “any disturbing or unwanted noise that interferes or harms humans or wildlife”. These sounds are usually caused by humans performing other jobs, such as road works outside an office or performing controlled explosions. The World Health Organisation definition ensures there is a difference between annoying, intrusive sounds and noise pollution, as the former does not pose a big risk to health unlike the latter.
Numerous studies by the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and many of the world’s states have explored the damaging nature of overly loud noises. If loud sounds are received by a person consistently, noise pollution can cause long-term damage to people’s hearing and an uncomfortable and distracting working atmosphere.
Employers have certain duties to protect employees through health and safety policy, and there are laws to protect staff members from dangers to their health and safety in the UK. These include the 2005 Control of Noise at Work Regulations, which lay out dangerous levels for employees to experience at work and how organisations can minimise risk. There is an absolute limit of 87 decibels (dBs) that staff members can be exposed to.
Organisations that fail to live up to their rights as an employer and violate their own codes of conduct may be liable under health and safety law. Negligence claims can be filed by employees and businesses may have to face huge pay-outs.
What are the Effects of Noise Pollution on Health?
Excessively loud, persistent sounds can not only damage the health of a person’s hearing, but it proves damaging to other aspects of a person’s physical and mental well-being.
It is important to note that certain groups will be disproportionately affected by noise pollution, including shift workers whose sleep patterns are irregular, meaning an increase in stress levels and chance of contracting something.
Tinnitus is a common symptom of prolonged exposure to intense sounds, and it is “defined as the sensation of sound in the absence of an external sound source”. It often manifests as a buzzing or ringing sound when there are very little external sounds. This can cause other symptoms, including the disturbance of sleep patterns and anxiety.
Cognitive effects that have been linked to high exposure to strong noises include significantly reduced working memory, creativity and judgement, and in the severe cases, depression. It hasn’t been scientifically concluded that intense and consistent noises lead to mental health problems, but it has been found that it can exacerbate pre-existing problems.
Not to mention, with constantly powerful noises happening around you, at work you are far less likely to get stuff done as it is very distracting. This means that daily business processes are stunted, and productivity is decreased even if the noises are just annoying and not harmful to health and safety.
In 2011, the World Health Organisation regional office for Europe published a report titled ‘The Burden of Disease from Environment Noise: Quantification of Healthy Lives Lost in Europe’. The report concluded that those who are constantly exposed to high noise levels (specifically those associated with road and aircraft traffic) have an increased chance of contracting cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other symptoms associated with it. This is obviously one of the most extreme cases as it poses a huge risk to health, but you have to be exposed to intense sounds at work for a significant number of years for this to take effect. CVD “raises blood pressure and heart rate, potentially raising a state of hyperarousal” and leading to strokes.