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Impairments caused by Noise

Noise is potentially health impairing sound - what does this mean for the employees?

Machine noise, bang, loud music, or disturbing speech sound may have adverse effects on the physical and mental well-being of human beings.

Noise is one of the most common hazards at the workplace. In Germany, approx. 5 million employees are exposed to noise levels endangering their hearing.

The most striking effects of noise include damage to the hearing (VDI 2058 sheet 2):

  • gradually eventuating noise-induced hearing loss caused by long-term noise exposure that may be recognised as a chronic, irreversible damage (occupational disease no. 2301)
  • acute hearing damage caused by the exposure to very high sound impulses. A damage may occur already if the noise exposure happened once and for a short time with a C-weighted peak sound pressure level of more than about 140 dB.

Pulse-type noise, tone-incorporating noise, and additional influencing factors at the workstation must be considered particularly. The latter include: vibrations, ototoxic agents, forced posture, and shift work that may increase the risk of hearing loss.

Noise has adverse effects on the health

However, noise does not only cause hearing damage, it is a general hazard to the health. Hence, it makes working in all areas of the working life more difficult (production, service provision, office, etc., VDI 2058 sheet 3).

Noise may result in the following:

  • an increased risk of accidents as a consequence of not hearing signals and warning calls or due to incorrect behaviour caused by fatigue or as startle response regarding permanent or unexpected noise exposure.
  • a reduced performance due to an increased strain on the organism, particularly for activities involving high mental requirements, such as concentration, attention, memory.
  • a disorder of the verbal communication, e.g. during instruction activities, group work, or in a call centre.
  • a combined stress, together with whole-body vibrations, heat, cold, draught, hazardous substances, or time pressure and complex activities due to adverse effects on physiological and psychic regulation mechanisms that may result in an increased stress hormone level and in a constriction of the peripheral blood vessels potentially increasing the risk of diseases of the cardiovascular system in the long run.

Please note: VDI 2058-2, -3 is available from the Beuth-Verlag.

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