Occupational noise - Noise control at the workplace starts with measurements

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Courtesy of Softnoise GmbH

We often automatically turn to personal protective equipment in order to restrict noise. Yet there are other solutions. NoiseAtWork software enables us to map the situation quickly.

It has been scientifically proven that exposure to noise which exceeds 80 dB(A) causes hearing loss, but lower levels can also cause physical and mental complaints. Noise also has a disruptive effect on communication and concentration in the workplace. It can affect the productivity of employees. Discomfort and nuisance caused by noise can therefore cost companies money. Employers are responsible for working conditions, and therefore for any exposure of their employees to noise in working environments. The risks run by employees need to be surveyed when drawing up the Risk Inventory & Evaluation (RI&E). They can also be identified from employees' complaints.

Gradual process

An estimated 900,000 employees experience hearing loss as a result of long-term exposure to noise. About 200,000 even experience deafness due to excessive noise. Industrial activities in the metalworking sector, construction and food industries are examples of environments involving many noisy tasks. Hearing loss is a gradual process: you don't initially notice that you are becoming deafer, and you therefore don't feel the need to restrict your exposure to noise. Your hearing gradually deteriorates without you noticing, and in the long term this can lead to performance problems and in some professions even to being classed as unfit to work.

The problem is exacerbated by exposure to noise outside work. A new threat is posed by loud music from  mp3  players and  phones,  via ear  buds and headphones. Teenagers who continually expose themselves to high (or excessive) noise levels will probably only notice that their hearing has deteriorated later in life (age 30-40). A complaint that used to be associated with the elderly has developed into a problem for a much larger group of people-Many more people than before could end up becoming socially isolated. Hearing loss can also indirectly contribute to other physical problems. Communication requires us to get signals across, but this is becoming increasingly difficult due to excessive environmental noise. This increases the risk of stress and therefore the risk of cardiovascular diseases. In short, there are many good reasons to control noise.

Measures

The occupational hygiene strategy must be adopted when mapping and restricting noise risk: it must first be tackled at the source and only in extreme cases should hearing protection be used. Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) is just one of the employer's obligations. A ruling by the European Court on 19 May 2011 stresses this: noise control is more than simply providing hearing protection. The ruling states that: Noise nuisance for employees must be reduced by the implementation of measures. The use of hearing protection alone is not enough. The Court's explanation of Directive 2003/10/EEC is that the measures are not confined to simply providing hearing protection, as that is not what is meant by the 'programme of technical or organisational measures' stipulated by the directive. Tackling the problem at the source, eliminating as far as possible the direct cause of the noise, starts with conducting measurements. This enables an objective analysis of noise levels. NEN-EN-ISO 9612 forms the basis for measuring and assessing noise levels in the workplace. This standard stipulates which variables need to be measured and how measurements must be conducted. The standard describes three methods for conducting a noise level inventory. All three focus on employees:

1.  Task-based method
2. Job-based method
3.   Full-day method

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