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Noise hazards

If sound is what we hear, then noise is unwanted sound. The difference between sound and noise is very subjective and varies by person, time and place. A rock concert may be an enjoyable sound to one person and an aggravating noise to someone else.

Noise is one of the most common occupational health hazards. In excessively noisy environments, permanent hearing loss is the main health concern. Noise creates health and safety hazards by:

increasing stress levels
impairing communication and concentration
causing accidents due to distractions (sudden, unexpected noises)
causing headaches, nausea and hearing loss

Controlling noise hazards
To control the negative effects of noise exposure, noise levels should be reduced to acceptable levels. In some cases, technology and engineering modifications can be used to modify the source of the noise. Personal hearing protection (such as earmuffs or plugs) may also provide temporary protection and relief while other methods of reducing workplace noise are being investigated.

As a first step in dealing with noise, it is important to identify areas or activities where excessive exposure to noise occurs. Noise exposure guidelines have been developed that recommend the maximum duration that should be permitted for various decibel (dB) levels of noise. In Ontario, the workplace limit for noise is 85 dB over an 8-hour period.

Decibel levels of some common sounds

Sound pressure levels (dB)
for average populations
Sound source
Safe range
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
No sound
Rustle of leaf
Buzzing insect
Quiet whisper
Quiet office
Window air conditioner
Conversation
Freight train
Computer print room
Risk range
90
100
110
Heavy vehicle
Subway station
Rock drill
Harmful range
120
130
140
Propeller plane
Riveting hammer
Jet engine at 30 m

Common sources of noise at work and home include:
photocopier/printer
ventilation system
ringing telephone
paper shredder
telephone conversations
lawnmower/snow blower/leaf blower
kitchen/bathroom appliances
vacuum cleaner
TV/radio

Here are some tips to help minimize the effects of noise:
Set up noisy equipment in a separate room.
Lower the volume on the television/radio.
Maintain equipment in good working order.
Encourage people to speak in lowered voices and to have conversations in areas that will not disturb others.
Use doors and dividers to reduce or redirect sound away from workstations.
Use earplugs for high noise activities.

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