Canadian Rental Service

Keep it down – the problem of jobsite noise and how to mitigate it

By Rick Farrell   

Features Tech tips noise safety

The effects of high noise and how to help your customers deal with it.

Construction workers tend to try to tolerate jobsite noise rather than use PPE. But that approach can lead to damage over the long term. photo credit: auremar / Adobe Stock.

Construction sites can be noisy places and many of your customers will just try to ignore it. But the long-term health risks of exposure to high noise are real, and rental operators have a role to play when renting noisy machinery and providing noise-protection devices. 

Before we get into that, just what are we talking about when we mention construction site noise?

Noise encompasses all the sounds harmful to workers and the environment. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control considers the average noise level people should be exposed to as less than 85 decibels over an exposure period of eight hours. Prolonged exposure to sounds higher than 85 dB leaves us with higher chances of developing hearing loss.

One of the professional activities where noise pollution can be dangerous is construction. It goes unnoticed because its effects are gradual. As a result, construction workers do not realize the problem until it is too late. Thus, knowing the impact of high noise can help them keep their ear health in check. In general, construction site equipment doesn’t comply with the set sound requirements. This translates to workers working above the exposure limit for 70 percent of the time. The result is over 20 million people around the world getting exposed to potentially damaging noise annually. Despite these risks, you will find that most construction workers are oblivious of their work conditions. The reason is that most do not recognize the immediate effects of noise exposure, with 52 percent reporting not wearing hearing protection.

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Let’s explore in detail what damages the prolonged exposure to high noise levels can cause and what preventative measures can be taken.

The effects of high noise
From short-term to long-term hearing loss to stress and stigmatization, continuous exposure to high noise levels has a high impact on the workers’ lives.   

1. Short-term hearing loss

Temporary hearing loss is when workers notice they cannot hear very well and have ringing in their ears. The tinnitus usually wears off after a short time once they get away from the noise source. However, the longer they are exposed to it, the longer it will take them to return to normal hearing. Short-term hearing loss is a challenge for construction workers as it will take several hours for their ears to recover. In addition, it may cause socially awkward moments when interacting with colleagues and family after work. Sometimes, they will find themselves asking people to speak louder or increasing the volume to access media devices at home.

2. Long-term hearing loss

Prolonged exposure to loud noise will result in noise-induced hearing loss. The NIHL condition is irreversible since a significant part of the sensitive structures of the inner ear get wholly damaged. It can emanate from a brief exposure to intense sounds such as explosions or extended loud sound exposure.  The first indication of long-term hearing loss is that conversations with people tend to be unclear. Sufferers will have difficulty listening to people on the phone and making out conversations in crowded settings. Sometimes, workers adapt to hearing loss unknowingly by learning to read people’s lips. Once a person prefers loud sounds and asks people to raise their voices in conversations, they should get their ears checked out. Hearing tests usually test out the response to various commands as carried out by healthcare professionals.

3. Decreased coordination and concentration

Hearing is vital to our lives for carrying out day-to-day activities. Studies show that noise levels at 110 dB will significantly reduce performance, implying that noise negatively affects coordination and concentration levels. Also, once hearing gets compromised, workers have increased risk of accidents on and off work settings because of their reduced ability to perceive situations around them.

4. Increased stress levels

High noise levels increase the level of stress in your body. This condition occurs because high noise levels distort the balance of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. It brings the body out of its normal operating levels for these hormones, which is synonymous with stress. High stress levels are associated with heart, stomach and nervous system disorders. In addition, researchers have found that noise can cause hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease and even stroke from prolonged exposure.

5. Stigmatization

When workers begin to experience hearing loss, they often want to seclude themselves from colleagues as they feel alone and embarassed. Unfortunately, this leads to low job performance and higher rates of absenteeism. The journey to learning sign language and using visual aids can often be challenging. Seclusion accompanies other adverse health effects such as dementia.

Prevention measures
All these consequences described above are preventable. Let’s see how.

1. Equipment measures

It is possible to control the amount of noise in a construction environment. When buying equipment for your fleet, pay attention to the listed noise ratings. Some suppliers have made a special effort to reduce the noise and vibration their machines produce. Design features include sound mufflers, reduced moving parts and sound-absorbent materials. Well-maintained machines are less noisy and that’s where a rental provider can make a real difference. Keeping up on lubrication and replacing moving parts are effective ways to reduce the amount of noise equipment produces.

2. Employee measures

All workers should have hearing protection with them at all times. Do you have these on your counter for easy purchase when customers pick up their equipment? 

Technology exists that allows people on a worksite to both protect their hearing and continue to communicate. A tour guide system will allow people to communicate easily even in noisy environments using headset that combines noise cancellation with a microphone networked to all the other local headsets. 

Noise exposure is not suitable for workers’ health, whether long or short term. The effects take time to manifest, and they will mostly go unnoticed unless workers and employers are on the lookout for them. Once a worker experiences some of the effects outlined in the article, they should consult a medical professional. 


About the author
Rick Farrell is president of Plant-Tours.com. He has provided communication, training and group hospitality consulting services to the construction industry for over 40 years. 


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