It’s International Noise Awareness Day. Can you hear it?

Noise has long been considered a fact of life. Since Juneval’s Satires in second century Rome, to the dawn of the Jet Age, or passing through New York City during the Roaring Twenties, noise is often considered an unavoidable sub-product of human activity and development. However, the prevailing attitude toward noise has changed throughout the last century. During the Roaring Twenties the New York Health Department created the Noise Abatement Commission. Dr. Leo Beranek worked in the late 1950s on the study and abatement of jet engine noise. These are just two examples of the many efforts to understand and abate the noise that surrounds us. Despite these, noise is still listed by the World Health Organisation as a risk factor for human health issues, along with air pollution and climate change.

Hearing, being one of the five primary senses, has a major role in life. It is essential for effective communication and speech and plays a significant role in language development and learning. Exposures to high noise levels can cause the loss or diminishment of hearing abilities, and hence a detrimental effect on communication.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, in the US alone, 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. Statistics like these show a troubling trend that hearing loss is not just a consequence of long exposure periods within noisy workplaces.

The current prevalence of portable multimedia instruments such as smartphones, digital music players and video games, as well as the common use of amplified music at concerts, which can generate sound levels many times louder than what’s acceptable within noisy workplaces, exposes younger people to the real risk of hearing loss.

A common media player with in-ear earbuds can generate noise levels in excess of 100 dBA (A-weighted decibels, the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear). A normal workplace exposure criteria is 85 dBA for 8-hours. In occupational health terms, a noise level of 100 dBA can begin causing temporary threshold shift after only 15 minutes of exposure.

Here are some rules of thumb to avoid over-exposure to noise:

  • Understand the risks. Excessively loud sounds can cause irreversible damage to your hearing.
  • Take breaks. Exposure time is a factor and is as important as the actual noise levels when it comes to assessing the risk. When using equipment or portable devices that produce loud sounds, take breaks.
  • Protect yourself. If you’re going to an amplified music concert or performing an activity with high sound levels, consider the use of hearing protection. Although regular earplugs can create distortion in sounds, which could detract from the experience, musician earplugs are designed to preserve the fidelity of the sound but reduce the overall sound exposure.

Amec Foster Wheeler provides a variety of services dedicated to solving a wide array of noise issues whether from transportation related sources or ones caused by environmental surroundings. Our specialists can ensure that noise levels are always acceptable – whatever the source. It’s important to remember that high noise levels not only occur in workplace environments, but in our everyday lives and we should always take care and beware of our surroundings.