The World Health Organization states ‘noise-induced hearing loss is insidious, permanent, and irreparable. (Source: here)
A noise-induced hearing loss is the most prevalent irreversible industrial disease, and noise is the biggest compensable occupational hazard.
Moreover, noise can cause hearing impairment, interfere with communication, disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psycho-physiological effects, reduce performance, and provoke annoyance response and changes in social behavior. In short, noise is a problem. (Source: here)
While the immediate effects of noise might be few, its physical and psychological long-term effects can be significant. It can have additive effects on health and well-being performance and safety.
Data from the US National Center for Health Statistics suggests that noise is the main reason for people becoming deaf or hard-of-hearing. Blue-collar workers are significantly more exposed to noise, along with craft workers and plant operators. (Source: here)
The Better Hearing Institute in the USA has published an estimate of the annual costs due to lost productivity, special education and medical care as a result of untreated hearing loss which sets the amount at USD 56 billion per year or USD 216 per capita. (Source: here)
Noise can also cause tinnitus. When permanent, this can lead to sleep problems. Tinnitus is often reported as being more tormenting than a hearing loss. A further problem with noise-induced hearing loss is hypersensitivity whereas noises seem to get louder and suddenly distorted. (Source: here)
In general terms, prolonged exposure to sound levels of more than 85 dB(A) is potentially hazardous although the important factor is the total amount of exposure given by the level and length of exposure time. Excessive exposures to noise are probably the most common cause of hearing loss due to damage to the inner ear.
Noise affects the central nervous system and causes physiological reactions that can become stress reactions due to their intensity, the rate of repetition, and the state of mind. The sudden or unwanted noise alerts the human body and activates the stress response. This serves to increase the release of stress hormones (cortisol), blood pressure, and heart rate.
While at high levels noise can impair hearing through damage to the middle and inner ears, less severe noise may interfere with speech perception communication and concentration. (Source: here) If prolonged, this may give rise to stress.
When considering noise in a workplace as a stress factor, it should not be seen only in isolation but together with the other stress factors. It often occurs together with physiological (shift, work, unusual posture, heat or cold) or mental stressors (work under pressure of time, the complexity of work task since some tasks require a higher level of concentration and attention because of their complexity and are likely to be worst affected by noise.
Aside from that, it also causes information to be processed less efficiently, reduces the ratio of speed to accuracy in information processing, and increases risk-taking. These demands on attention affect the execution of work tasks and are the main reason that noise is a cause of accidents, especially when performing complex tasks.
Noise can adversely affect performance, for example, in reading, attentiveness, problem-solving, and memory. Deficits in performance can lead to accidents. (Source: here) Apart from impeding the attention and concentration of employees, noise may also increase the risk of an accident at work.
In addition to studies showing that noise can contribute in the occurrence of injuries and deaths at work, studies also indicate that hearing loss (either alone or in combination with noise) can be a causal factor. (Source: here)
Given these facts, the employer is obliged to assess and, if necessary, measure the levels of noise to which workers are exposed. In the highlight of this assessment, employers must put in place measures to be taken when the exposure limit values and exposure action values are exceeded. (Source: here)
Employers are required to ensure the health and safety of employees in every aspect related to their work. This can be achieved by the prevention of occupational risks, provision of information and training. Risk assessment should be up-to-date and from the results should the employer decide on the protective measures to be taken, and if necessary, the protective equipment to be used.
In the end, even a small reduction in hearing ability will isolate the victim, make usual work and social interaction a strain and cause problems not only in work but also in family life.