For tradespeople, high noise exposure is a way of life. According to the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN)*, 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise. Globally, noise-related health problems may be affecting one-third of the world’s population.
Tools, machines, engines, turbines, fans, water jets and vacuums combine to play a new work zone symphony every shift. The dangers of noise exposure to hearing and the organs of the ear are emphasized at length in several forums, including this blog. But what does noise exposure do to the rest of your body and your mind?
Ill Effects of Noise Exposure
Based on research conducted by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), noise is connected to the following adverse health effects:
- Hearing impairment
- Interference with spoken communication
- Sleep disturbance
- Cardiovascular disturbances
- Impaired task performance
- Mental health disturbances
- Negative social behavior
- Annoyance reactions, increase in aggression and decrease in cooperation
Noise causes a stress response in the amygdala, which then releases the stress hormone cortisol. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Long-term activation of the stress-response system—and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.”
Unfortunately, at work our bodies get so used to noise exposure that we don’t register the stress response. But don’t mistake inurement for immunity. Just because we no longer consciously react to the noise doesn’t mean that our bodies aren’t still doing so.
That’s what’s so scary about noise exposure in the work zone. At home, in your car, or just walking down the street, you hear a noise and your body reacts because that noise may indicate a threat. Even if that noise is at a level equal to what you hear at work every day, outside of work you may find the noise to be nerve wracking. Noise exposure at work is, ironically, quietly eating away at you.
Why the noise exposure third degree?
Protecting workers from noise exposure is more than just hearing protection. There’s more to it than “use your foamies” or “bring your own earmuffs.” As a business owner or someone who cares about jobsite safety and productivity, you have a vested interest in limiting noise exposure for your workers. Consider the difference between these two perspectives:
- Provide hearing protection to help workers avoid occupational hearing loss.
- Circumvent noise exposure to improve worker safety, increase productivity and enhance overall job satisfaction.
When you accept that noise is an avoidable source of stress on your workforce, then you can approach the problem from angles other than hearing protection. You’re helping to clarify spoken communication, sharpen focus on task performance, encourage positive social behavior, decrease aggression and increase cooperation.
Noise may be a part of our working life, but exposure to it doesn’t have to be.
* Basner M, Brink M, Bristow A, de Kluizenaar Y, Finegold L, Hong J, Janssen SA, Klaeboe R, Leroux T, Liebl A, Matsui T, Schwela D, Sliwinska-Kowalska M, Sörqvist P. ICBEN review of research on the biological effects of noise 2011-2014. Noise Health [serial online] 2015 [cited 2017 Sep 27];17:57-82. Available from: http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2015/17/75/57/153373