Noise is part of everyday life, but loud noise can damage your health. Noise is all around us, from disruptive sounds like road traffic, to calming sounds like a bird song. Environmental noise is described as unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human actions. This includes road, rail, air traffic and industry. Noise pollution is increasingly becoming a local environmental problem with increased complaints from the general public.
Harmful sounds - sounds that are too loud or loud sounds over a long time - can damage your hearing and have other impacts on your well-being.
Noise can be annoying, especially if it is at night keeping you awake. The sources of nuisance noise include noisy neighbours, construction and industrial noise. Identifying what constitutes an annoying noise can, however, be open to debate.
Although noise has a particular resonance with wellbeing, especially with regard to the oft-heard house alarm going off in the small hours of the morning, it is less well-represented in the health spectrum.
Excessive noise can cause temporary or permanent damage to hearing. Temporary deafness is often experienced after leaving a noisy place such as a music concert or a place where large machinery is operated. Many road-works feature large generators, and operators can regularly be seen operating hand-held machines that emit significant noise. Regular exposure to such noise could cause permanent damage, and although hearing may recover within a few hours this should not be ignored as it may be a symptom of more serious damage.
Hearing loss is usually gradual due to prolonged exposure to noise. It may only be when damage caused by noise over the years combines with normal hearing loss due to ageing that people realise how deaf they have become. Exposure to noise may also cause tinnitus, which is a sensation of noises (such as ringing or buzzing) in the ears. This can occur in combination with hearing loss.
In terms of noise in the workplace, Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amended) Regulations 2007 sets down the minimum requirements for the protection of workers from the health risks associated with noise. The link shows the subsequent regulations and orders which stemmed from the act.
How is noise measured?
Decibels (dB) are used to measure noise. The instrument used is called a noise meter. It responds in a similar way to the human ear, to assess sound pressure levels.
There are a range of sound levels, some of which are low and some of which are very loud. Typical sound levels measured are as follows:
- 150 dB = rock music peak
- 140 dB = firealarms, jet engine
- 130 dB = jackhammer
- 120 dB = jet plane take-off, loud car stereo
- 110 dB = model airplane
- 106 dB = bass drum roll
- 100 dB = chain saw, pneumatic drill
- 90 dB = lawnmower, large trucks
- 80 dB = alarm clock, busy street
- 70 dB = busy traffic, vacuum cleaner
- 60 dB = conversation, dishwasher
- 50 dB = moderate rainfall
- 40 dB = quiet room
- 30 dB = whisper, quiet library
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