Noise in the workplace is a constant feature of everyday life. But unfortunately, it can be harmful to humans. In France, 3 million employees are exposed to excessive noise levels in the workplace. Too much noise can have an impact on human hearing, so it’s important to get the facts. What is noise? What are the risks? What does the law say? We explain it all!

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Published on 3 June 2024

All you need to know about noise in the workplace

In this article:

What is noise?

In the field of environmental acoustics, sound levels are expressed in decibels. This unit of measurement determines whether the sound is loud or soft.
Sound is also characterized by its pitch, which indicates how low or high it is. These measures also have an impact on hearing: high frequencies have more impact than low frequencies. With a faster frequency, high frequencies penetrate deeper into the ear canal, producing powerful vibrations.


The dangers of noise

Hearing disorders

Without realizing it, hearing loss can set in very quickly and lead to deafness. To anticipate these risks, we need to keep an eye on the noise levels that surround us on a daily basis, as a preventive measure.

Risk of accidents

It’s a well-known fact that a noisy workplace is conducive to accidents. Loud sounds can disguise other audible warning signals, such as a horn. Poor noise management will also have an impact on employees’ concentration levels, also influencing their alertness.
Without protection, the damage caused by noise impacts workers’ health. Alert thresholds vary according to decibel levels and duration of exposure:

  • 80dB : 8h/day ;
  • 86 dB : 2h/day ;
  • 92 dB : 30 min/day ;
  • 95 dB : 15 min/day ;
  • 101 dB : 4 min/day ;
  • 107 dB : 1 min/day ;
  • From 120 to 140 dB: a few seconds.

The boundaries of noise tolerance thresholds are very thin. It can quickly become annoying and even dangerous.

Stress and fatigue

The impact is not only physical, but can also be psychological. Studies show that exposure to noise increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This can increase anxiety, fatigue, depression and even sleep disturbance. Of course, this data varies according to the individual. These factors are bound to have an impact on the quality of work for those affected.


The problem of noise in the workplace

It’s important to keep an eye on the sound environment in the office to protect your employees’ health. Generally speaking, at 80 decibels (dB) or more, the danger threshold is reached after 8 hours of exposure. At 130 decibels and above, any exposure to noise, even short-term, is considered highly harmful.
Once this threshold is exceeded, to be heard, you have to raise your voice. The combination of 80db and a higher voice will have an impact on employees’ concentration and attention.

In a typical open-space environment, the measured level is around 60 dB. This figure is dangerously close to the danger threshold. That’s why we have to do everything we can not to cross that line.
It’s sometimes difficult to assess how high this threshold should be: that’s why noise sensors can help you keep control of your workspaces. This will make it easier for you to assess the noise level in your workplace.

Following complaints from French workers, the government sounded the alarm and introduced regulations to protect them.


Regulations and recommendations

The French Labor Code stipulates that a worker exposed to a working environment exceeding 80 dB for a period of 8 hours is entitled to the same rights. At his or her request, or at the request of an occupational physician, he or she may undergo a preventive audiometric examination. In noisy environments such as machine rooms or workshops, employees must be given rest periods, as well as regular medical check-ups.

To reduce noise levels within a company, it is necessary to implement corrective measures:

  • Buy or design silent machines;
  • Enclosing the machines;
  • Soundproofing premises or buildings;
  • Equip employees with earplugs, headphones or noise-reducing headphones;
  • Isolated spaces for calls or noisy machines.

Noise can have irreversible consequences on hearing. That’s why it’s important to assess the risks in a preventive way, by measuring workers’ noise exposure. For this purpose, Nexelec offers a fleet of sound environment detectors. Its technology detects sound peaks, enabling you to assess the average noise level in your spaces.