Industrial noise is part of the modern world. For those workers who must deal with it on a daily basis, it is actually a hazard. Industrial noise can also impact the general public, including those that live close to industrial areas. Much research on the subject has found that noise pollution is harmful. So, what is the answer to reducing it? New technology? Changes in the way in which people work?

Defining What Constitutes Industrial Noise

Industrial noise is the effect of machinery or other equipment high decibel output that is then heard by those in close proximity. Noise is measured in decibels. The baseline for noise is 10 decibels. If there is a shift in the hearing of a person because of excessive noise, then this is considered a workplace injury per OSHA regulations. Protecting the hearing of employees and the greater population is critical to combat industrial noise.

What Are the Effects of Industrial Noise?

A study that focused on sawmills, printing presses, and corn mills found that workers in these industries had noise-induced hearing loss. In corn mills, 23 percent of workers were impacted while 20 percent of sawmill employees had damage and 7.9 percent of printing industry professionals did.

Beyond just workers dealing with hearing loss, noise pollution has a far greater impact. The World Health Organization (WHO) determined that at least one million healthy life years are lost every year in western European countries because of environmental noise.

The biggest culprits associated with this were cardiovascular disease, especially high blood pressure, heart attacks, and coronary heart disease. Because of this the European Union is moving to significantly reduce industrial noise by 2020, setting standards for engine noise in cars and heavy machinery.

Setting standards sounds like a great plan, but what tactics are in process now to reduce it?

Low-noise coatings can be added to road surfaces. There are new innovations in insulation for buildings and structures.

How Can Workplaces Reduce Industrial Noise?

Completely eliminating sound or replacing it with something quieter is usually not an option. What is possible is engineering controls. With this solution, physical modifications are made to control noise or limit the exposure to workers. One option is to enclose workers from the noise.

With new automation capabilities, many machines can be controlled from a separate area, meaning a worker does not have to be physically beside the equipment. Another option is to create an acoustic shelter to isolate employees from the noise.

It is possible to enclose the noise as well with an insulated room. It forms a box around the actual equipment and includes acoustic doors and windows with a ventilation and cooling system. No modifications have to be made to the machine itself, and these enclosures are usually effective for 25 years and should not require regular maintenance.

While traditionally these enclosures have been made with conventional construction materials and modular acoustic components, new noise control products are more flexible. They can be made with vinyl, which is less costly but still has the ability to absorb the noise.

There are also green ways to reduce noise outside of loud plants or facilities. Planting a “fence” of trees or shrubs can reduce noise levels significantly, reducing noise output by half.

As technology improves, industrial noise should lessen. This may include machinery that is reconfigured to be less noisy versus having to encase workers or the equipment. This is a global issue, and one that the WHO looks at as a health crisis, as once the damage is done to someone’s hearing, it’s not able to be recovered without aid. Everyone is impacted by industrial noise in the 21st century, and the real challenge will be how to effectively diminish it.

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