In a workplace, educational, or housing environment, too much noise can be harmful. Apart from the more immediate physical effects of high-decibel environments, such as hearing loss, too much noise can distract workers, create anxiety, or even affect immune response. For these and other reasons, many organizations use sensors to monitor sound, noise, and decibel levels.
What industries benefit from noise monitoring sensors?
While maintaining healthy sound levels is beneficial in any environment, there are a few industries in which noise monitoring devices are prevalent.
Noise Level Control for Hospitals & Healthcare
With mounting evidence of the adverse effects of hazardous noise levels in healthcare settings, healthcare facilities are taking measures to better control excessive noise. Both patients and medical staff can experience adverse physiological responses to uncontrolled noise levels, including diminished immune response, interrupted sleep, and changes in cardiovascular function. To protect its patients, in particular, hospitals and healthcare facilities have a strong incentive to measure and regulate sound.
Noise Mitigation for Manufacturing & Industrial Plants
In the United States, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)—among other institutions—publishes noise level guidelines for workplaces. These guidelines are particularly important in manufacturing and industrial settings, where machinery, combustion engines, and other sources can easily generate and sustain noise beyond the “100% noise dose.” According to the NIOSH, for example, a person’s 100% noise dose over the course of eight hours ought not exceed 85 dBA.
Sound Level Monitor for Construction Worksites
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific standards for noise levels in construction worksites. These include detailed regulations for both occupational noise exposure and hearing protection, which must be followed to avoid harm to workers, as well as state and federal penalties. For example, according to the OSHA Pocket Guide to Protecting Yourself from Noise in Construction, for “noise is as loud as 100 dBA (like a jackhammer or stud welder), it can take repeated exposures of as little as 1 hour per day to damage your hearing.”
Noise Mitigation for Housing Districts & Housing Associations
Regulating noise levels in an apartment building, for example, or housing complex, has a number of benefits. First and foremost, tenants are subject to the same adverse health effects of elevated noise levels as workers, healthcare staff, and patients (see above). Many states and municipalities issue ordinances related to noise, too, which require compliance from tenants, property owners, property managers, and so on. San Francisco, for example, has Fixed Residential Interior Noise Limits.
Noise Monitors for Hotels & Hospitality
In the hotels and hospitality industry, noise must be constantly monitored and managed. Increased ambient noise levels, for example, or loud parties in a particular room, can lead to complaints, poor guest experiences, and a bad business reputation. Exterior noise, as well as sounds from the hallway and other rooms, must also be monitored and controlled.
Noise Surveying for Offices & Commercial Businesses
Noise is one of many environmental factors that can affect workplace productivity. Even ambient noise levels can hinder concentration. While the effect of noise will be subjective to each worker, a range between 50 and 70 decibels is considered optimal. The Canada Safety Council, for instance, estimates that the sound level in most offices is between 45-60 dB.
Monitoring for Bullying on School Campuses
Many school campuses use noise and environmental monitoring to not only maintain optimal noise levels for students and staff, but to alert security staff to potential incidents. If the 80 dB noise threshold is exceeded in a bathroom or locker room, for example, security staff might check to ensure no bullying or fighting is taking place.
What are the health effects of excessive noise?
The health effects of excessive noise are many. Loud or excessive noise can damage nerves, hair cells, and the eardrum, among other parts of the inner and outer ear. Among the negative health effects of excessive noise, OSHA cites permanent hearing loss (irreparable through surgery or hearing aid), tinnitus, physical and psychological stress, communication issues, and diminished concentration.
Why is workplace noise considered a stealth long-term hazard, and how can it be prevented?
While the CDC acknowledges that a one-time, acute exposure to very loud sound (90+ dB) can cause permanent hearing damage, most hearing loss is the result of prolonged exposure. While a running lawn mower puts out less sound than, say, an explosion, a person who spends all day running a lawn mower (without proper ear protection) is likely to experience some damage to their ears. Repetitive, medium-to-lower-decibel exposures sustained over time, such as nail guns, pounding, or grinding can create hearing damage that is painful and gradual, though no less permanent in the end.
How is noise level measured?
Organizations of all types and sizes, from education and healthcare to law enforcement and commercial spaces, measure noise levels. Noise level can be measured using a variety of devices (elaborated on below). The purposes of noise level monitoring include:
- Ensuring the safety of workers, building occupants, and customers
- Improving employee productivity and wellbeing
- Ensuring compliance with noise level guidelines
- What devices are used to monitor noise levels?
Safety and health inspectors will use sound level meters to measure decibel levels in particular spaces, or of different pieces of equipment. The NIOSH Sound Level Meter App is a good example. Other organizations use noise dosimeters to determine compliance with OSHA standards for noise exposure in a given workday. Finally, all-in-one environmental sensors can detect and monitor noise levels, alongside other environmental variables (such as air quality, smoke and vape emissions, and temperature and humidity).
What variables are factored into noise level assessment?
Noise level assessments can be used to evaluate sound exposure throughout entire buildings, or particular areas. The point of these assessments is to gauge the exposure levels for people occupying these buildings and, if necessary, make adjustments. A noise level assessment accounts for a variety of variables, including:
- Time period
- Sampling rate
- Frequency range
- Frequency weighting
- Percentile levels
- Energy average
Challenges and benefits of noise level monitoring
While there is broad consensus that unwanted environmental noise can negatively impact the health and wellbeing of people, the approaches used to measure, monitor, and assess noise levels are not always accurate or consistent. This is particularly true of hospital settings, where one study found that the approaches used to objectively measure noise level “have been inconsistent and poorly reported.”
As to the benefits of noise level monitoring, many organizations depend on it for the measurement, documentation and reporting of environmental noise measurements. This can help organizations ensure safety, enhance productivity, and maintain compliance with local and state noise regulations.
What are the guidelines for the maximum amount of noise?
There are a number of local, state, federal, and international organizations that issue guidelines for noise exposure. Guidelines for each industry are different, as well, as workers' tasks and equipment differ. Here is a sampling of the most widely used noise guidelines:
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and World Health Organization (WHO): both recommend maintaining environmental noises below 70 dBA over a 24-hour period (below 75 dBA over an 8-hour period) to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program when noise exposure is at or above 85 decibels averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): recommends that all worker exposures to noise should be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA over an 8-hour time period to minimize noise-induced hearing damage.
Noise Level Monitoring in Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities
In its Guidelines for community noise, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that noise on hospital wards should not exceed 30 dB LAeq. The WHO also recommends that noise in treatment rooms should be kept as low as possible to avoid adverse effects on patients and staff.
Noise Level Monitoring for Property Management and Housing Communities
For property management firms and housing communities, noise exposure can be a steady detriment to residents and staff alike. According to research from the WHO, for example, 40% of the population in EU countries is exposed to road traffic noise exceeding 55 dB during daytime. More than half of citizens live in acoustically uncomfortable zones, according to the same research, including nighttime exposure to sound pressure levels exceeding 55 dB (which are disturbing to sleep). As a result of these and other examples of chronic noise pollution, property managers and even developers are factoring in noise monitoring as well as exposure reduction in their housing plans.
What are hearing monitoring programs and hearing conservation programs?
According to OSHA, hearing conservation programs:
“[…] strive to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to safeguard themselves. Employers are required to measure noise levels; provide free annual hearing exams, hearing protection, and training; and conduct evaluations of the adequacy of the hearing protectors in use (unless changes made to tools, equipment, and schedules result in worker noise exposure levels that are less than the 85 dBA). Research indicates that workplaces with appropriate and effective hearing conservation programs have higher levels of worker productivity and a lower incidence of absenteeism.”
When is a noise monitoring/conservation program needed?
In the United States, and under the guidance of OSHA, a hearing conservation program must be put in place in environments where employees are exposed to average noise levels of 85 dB or more throughout an eight-hour workday (also known as the OSHA “action level” for noise).
What are the effects of noise level in the workplace?
Noise levels, chemical exposure, and other environmental factors can cause chronic and acute consequences in the workplace. We’ve mentioned how elevated noise levels can impact productivity and wellbeing. However, monitoring noise levels with environmental sensors can also help to prevent sick building syndrome (SBS).