Excessive noise at work can be irritating, distracting and potentially harmful to workers’ physical and mental health. The problem is, many employers struggle to determine exactly what is an acceptable level of noise at work, perhaps unsurprising given the subjectivity of terms like ‘excessive’ and ‘acceptable’. For example, while one person might not be particularly bothered about incessant chatting in the office, another might find it impossible to concentrate, to the detriment of their concentration, productivity and, potentially, their mental wellbeing.
To confound matters further, the risks associated with noise at work vary greatly from one employee to the next. Contributing factors include the intensity, duration and nature of the noise, the worker’s proximity to its source, and the amount of time they spend in its vicinity – to name but a small handful.
So what is an acceptable level of noise at work?
What are considered to be acceptable noise levels at work depends whether the risks to health are physical, psychological or both. Indicators of excessive noise at work include:
- Physical – tinnitus and hearing loss; also impaired communication, which could result in failure to hear alarms and warning signals in the event of an emergency.
- Psychological – difficulty concentrating, reduced productivity, work-related stress and insomnia.
In addition, there is also a legal element which require employers to take action at certain noise levels and ensure that the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded to protect workers’ hearing. A word of caution here. Noise-induced hearing loss claims are on the up since 2001. Most of these are made by staff against their employers, and relate to deafness and hearing problems that have come about as a result of noise issues in the workplace.