Causes and Effects of Noise Pollution

The Causes and Effects of Noise Pollution is a very important topic to discuss, considering the negative health impact of noise pollution to humans.

The most common health problem noise causes is – Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Exposure to loud noise can also cause high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbances, and stress. These health problems can affect all age groups, especially children. Many children who live near noisy airports or streets have been found to suffer from stress and other problems, such as impairments in memory, attention level, and reading skill.

Before we get down to consider the Causes and Effects of Noise Pollution, let us have an overview of what noise pollution is.

What is Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is an unwanted or excessive sound that can have deleterious effects on human health, wildlife, and environmental quality. Noise pollution is commonly generated inside many industrial facilities and some other workplaces, but it also comes from highway, railway, and airplane traffic and from outdoor construction activities.

Some sources of noise pollution are:

  • Aircraft
  • Motorized vehicles
  • Crowds
  • Construction, etc.

How can I tell if my workplace is too loud?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, the workplace may have a noise problem.

  • Do people have to raise their voices?
  • Do people who work in noisy environments have ringing in their ears at the end of a shift?
  • Do they find when they return home from work that they have to increase the volume on their car radio higher than they did when they went to work?
  • Does a person who has worked in a noisy workplace for years have problems understanding conversations at parties, or restaurants, or in crowds where there are many voices and “competing” noises?

Read Also: Noise monitoring – Procedure & Monitoring equipment

If there is a noise problem in a workplace, then a noise assessment or survey should be undertaken to determine the sources of noise, the amount of noise, who is exposed and for how long.

Causes and Effects of Noise Pollution


Causes of Noise Pollution

Industrialization: Most of the industries use big machines which are capable of producing a large amount of noise. Apart from that, various equipment like compressors, generators, exhaust fans, grinding mills also participates in producing big noise.

Social Events: Noise is at its peak in most of the social events.

Transportation: A large number of vehicles on roads, airplanes flying over houses, underground trains produce heavy noise, and people find it difficult to get accustomed to that.

Air Traffic Noise: There are fewer aircraft flying over cities than there are cars on the roads, but the impact is greater: a single aircraft produces 130 dB.

Construction Activities: Under construction activities like mining, construction of bridges, dams, buildings, stations, roads, flyovers takes place in almost every part of the world.

Effects of Noise Pollution

Noise-Induced Hearing Impairment: Hearing impairment is typically defined as an increase in the threshold of hearing. It is assessed by threshold audiometry. Hearing handicap is the disadvantage imposed by hearing impairment sufficient to affect one’s personal efficiency in the activities of daily living. It is usually expressed in terms of understanding conventional speech in common levels of background noise (ISO 1990). Worldwide, noise-induced hearing impairment is the most prevalent irreversible occupational hazard. In the developing countries, not only occupational noise, but also
environmental noise is an increasing risk factor for hearing impairment. In 1995, at the World Health Assembly, it was estimated that there are 120 million persons with disabling hearing difficulties worldwide.

Read Also: What is Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of an Hearing Protection & How to Calculated it

Interference with Speech Communication: Noise interference with speech comprehension results in a large number of personal disabilities, handicaps and behavioural changes. Problems with concentration, fatigue, uncertainty and lack of self-confidence, irritation, misunderstandings, decreased working capacity, problems in human relations, and a number of stress reactions have all been identified.
Particularly vulnerable to these types of effects are the hearing impaired, the elderly, children in the process of language and reading acquisition, and individuals who are not familiar with the spoken language. Thus, vulnerable persons constitute a substantial proportion of a country’s population.

Sleep Disturbance: Uninterrupted sleep is known to be a prerequisite for good physiological and mental functioning of healthy persons; sleep disturbance, on the other hand, is considered to be a major environmental noise effect. It is estimated that 80-90% of the reported cases of sleep disturbance in noisy environments are for reasons other than noise originating outdoors. For example, sanitary needs; indoor noises from other occupants; worries; illness; and climate.

Cardiovascular and Physiological Effects: Epidemiological and laboratory studies involving workers exposed to occupational noise, and general populations (including children) living in noisy areas around airports, industries and noisy streets, indicate that noise may have both temporary and permanent impacts on physiological functions in humans. It has been postulated that noise acts as an environmental stressor. Acute noise
exposures activate the autonomic and hormonal systems, leading to temporary changes such as increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and vasoconstriction. After prolonged exposure, susceptible individuals in the general population may develop permanent effects, such as hypertension and ischaemic heart disease associated with exposures to high sound pressure levels. The magnitude and duration of the effects are determined in part by individual characteristics, lifestyle behaviours and environmental conditions. Sounds also evoke reflex responses, particularly when they are unfamiliar and have a sudden onset.

Mental Health Disorder: Environmental noise is not believed to be a direct cause of mental illness, but it is assumed that it accelerates and intensifies the development of latent mental disorder. Studies on the adverse effects of environmental noise on mental health cover a variety of symptoms, including anxiety; emotional stress; nervous complaints; nausea; headaches; instability; argumentativeness; sexual impotency; changes in mood; increase in social conflicts, as well as general psychiatric disorders such as neurosis, psychosis and hysteria. Large-scale population studies have suggested associations between noise exposure and a variety of mental health indicators, such as single rating of well-being; standard psychological symptom profiles; the intake of psychotropic drugs; and consumption of tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Early studies showed a weak association between exposure to aircraft noise and psychiatric hospital admissions in the general population surrounding an airport.

Noise controls are the first line of defense against excessive noise exposure. The use of these controls should aim to reduce the hazardous exposure to the point where the risk to hearing is eliminated or minimized. With the reduction of even a few decibels, the hazard to hearing is reduced, communication is improved, and noise-related annoyance is reduced. There are several ways to control and reduce worker exposure to noise in a workplace.

Engineering controls: It reduce sound exposure levels are available and technologically feasible for most noise sources. Engineering controls involve modifying or replacing equipment, or making related physical changes at the noise source or along the transmission path to reduce the noise level at the worker’s ear. In some instances the application of a relatively simple engineering noise control solution reduces the noise hazard to the extent that further requirements of the OSHA Noise standard (e.g., audiometric testing (hearing tests), hearing conservation program, provision of hearing protectors, etc…) are not necessary. Examples of inexpensive, effective engineering controls include some of the following:

  • Choose low-noise tools and machinery (e.g., Buy Quiet Roadmap (NASA)).
  • Maintain and lubricate machinery and equipment (e.g., oil bearings).
  • Place a barrier between the noise source and employee (e.g., sound walls or curtains).
  • Enclose or isolate the noise source.

Administrative controls: These are changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate the worker exposure to noise. Examples include:

  • Operating noisy machines during shifts when fewer people are exposed.
  • Limiting the amount of time a person spends at a noise source.
  • Providing quiet areas where workers can gain relief from hazardous noise sources (e.g., construct a sound proof room where workers’ hearing can recover – depending upon their individual noise level and duration of exposure, and time spent in the quiet area).
  • Restricting worker presence to a suitable distance away from noisy equipment.Controlling noise exposure through distance is often an effective, yet simple and inexpensive administrative control. This control may be applicable when workers are present but are not actually working with a noise source or equipment. Increasing the distance between the noise source and the worker, reduces their exposure. In open space, for every doubling of the distance between the source of noise and the worker, the noise is decreased by 6 dBA.

    Read Also: 10 Most Common Occupational Diseases

Hearing protection devices (HPDs): Such as earmuffs and plugs, are considered an acceptable but less desirable option to control exposures to noise and are generally used during the time necessary to implement engineering or administrative controls, when such controls are not feasible, or when worker’s hearing tests indicate significant hearing damage.

An effective hearing conservation program must be implemented by employers in general industry whenever worker noise exposure is equal to or greater than 85 dBA for an 8 hour exposure or in the construction industry when exposures exceed 90 dBA for an 8 hour exposure. This program strives to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to protect them. Key elements of an effective hearing conservation program include:

  • Workplace noise sampling including personal noise monitoring which identifies which employees are at risk from hazardous levels of noise.
  • Informing workers at risk from hazardous levels of noise exposure of the results of their noise monitoring.
  • Providing affected workers or their authorized representatives with an opportunity to observe any noise measurements conducted.
  • Maintaining a worker audiometric testing program (hearing tests) which is a professional evaluation of the health effects of noise upon individual worker’s hearing.
  • Implementing comprehensive hearing protection follow-up procedures for workers who show a loss of hearing (standard threshold shift) after completing baseline (first) and yearly audiometric testing.
  • Proper selection of hearing protection based upon individual fit and manufacturer’s quality testing indicating the likely protection that they will provide to a properly trained wearer.
  • Evaluate the hearing protectors attenuation and effectiveness for the specific workplace noise.
  • Training and information that ensures the workers are aware of the hazard from excessive noise exposures and how to properly use the protective equipment that has been provided.
  • Data management of and worker access to records regarding monitoring and noise sampling.

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By Ubong Edet

A passionate Health and Safety professional with a good level of field experience and relevant certifications including NEBOSH, OSHA, ISO, etc certifications. An Health and Safety activist who believes in the growth and continual improvement of the profession. He is going all out to create awareness and safe precious lives.

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