The term noise is defined as a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance. Anything that interferes with, slows down, or reduces the clarity or accuracy of a communication is also termed as noise. And noise is indeed an occupational hazard. In almost all occupations or professions, people are exposed to some kind of loud noise but the intensity and duration varies from profession to profession. From education to entertainment, from call centers to concert halls and from agriculture to service sectors noise at work is definitely a serious issue.
Though noise adversely affects the physiological and psychological well being of the people, most workers and employers do not give it the attention that it truly deserves. Work-related hazards are broadly classified into fire, electric, dangerous chemicals, radioactive, and so on as the injury and wounds when exposed to these are visible to the eyes. But noise is seldom considered as an occupational hazard as the effects of high noise level to one’ health takes time and is invisible. Therefore, unlike other occupational hazards where all precautionary measures are taken to avoid accidents of any kind, no hearing protection devices are used for occupational noise hazard.
Noise can be categorized into continuous, variable, intermittent or impulsive noise but any sound that is 85 decibels or higher is definitely dangerous. And constant exposure to loud noise can obviously lead to hearing loss. According to World Health Organization (WHO), ‘noise-induced hearing loss is insidious, permanent, and irreparable. In a developed country, exposure to excessive noise is at least partially the cause in more than one third of those in the population who have hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss is the most prevalent irreversible industrial disease, and noise is the biggest compensable occupational hazard’.
However, the fact of the matter is hearing loss and its associated symptoms such as ear strain, ear pain, ringing ears and so on are not the only effects of noise exposure. Studies have proven that noise exposure can lead to hypertension, fatigue, heart trouble, coronary disease, disturbed serum lipid, triglycerides, platelet count, plasma viscosity, glucose and reduced motor efficiency. It can affect the cardiovascular, endocrine, metabolic, gastrointestinal and neurological systems.
In such a scenario, hearing loss prevention must be undertaken at the workplace. This includes
Reducing the noise levels to acceptable levels i.e. below 85 decibels
Using engineering methods to modify the noise source or the workplace environment
Using hearing protection devices such as noise cancelling ear muffs, ear plugs and so on
Since in most cases it is difficult to reduce the noise levels to acceptable levels, earplugs are the most plausible option since the most advanced earplugs help in making communication compact and easy in high noise environments.