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Why we need to turn down the volume on noise

Date posted
19 April 2024
Eloise Byrne CertIOSH
Estimated reading time
3 minute read

Millions of people across the globe are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace each year. This can negatively impact workers’ hearing, health and quality of life. Eloise Byrne, OSH Content Developer at IOSH, shares ways to help protect the workforce ahead of International Noise Awareness Day.

Noise has long been recognised as a significant occupational hazard.

An 18th century report noted hearing loss among coppersmiths whose ‘ears are injured by the “perpetual din” from hammering on metal’. However, the prevalence of work-related hearing loss has increased with the mechanical isolation of work. Occupational hearing loss remains a prominent issue, with 22 million workers exposed to hazardous noise each year in the USA.1 In the United Kingdom (UK), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that over 2 million people are exposed to unacceptable levels of noise at work.2

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise is one of the top environmental risks to health.3 And 2.5 billion people in the world will be affected by a form of hearing loss by 2050.

Noise has negative impacts on human health, for example hearing impairment, social isolation due to difficulty communicating, stress and anxiety, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular problems, and cognitive impairments, a leading factor behind human error in workplace.5 It is also associated with depression, dementias and increased hospitalisation.6 This can lead to absenteeism and a higher likelihood of unemployment.5

In an occupational setting, noise is high risk in industries that use loud powered tools or machinery, explosives such as demolition and noise from impact such as hammering, for example in the construction industry.7 Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), defined as a permanent shift that occurs when the structures in the ear become damaged due to loud noises, means the worker is less able to distinguish sounds clearly.8 NIHL is one of the most prominent effects of prolonged noise exposure in the workplace. 

Advice for safety and health professionals

  • Conduct a thorough noise risk assessment by carrying out an analysis of all tasks to identify all potential sources of excessive or prolonged noise and decide on measures to reduce the exposure to noise.
  • Focus on eliminating or reducing the noise risk at its source, for example procuring machinery with lower rates of noise emission. This information can be obtained by checking the technical manuals of equipment.
  • Modify some parts of the daily activities, for example use dampeners and zoning in the workplace, to identify which parts of the workplace need higher levels of hearing protection
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used for minimising worker exposure to noise only in conjunction with other effective risk control measures. Where PPE is necessary, clear communication is essential to ensure workers understand why measures are in place to avoid misunderstandings. Ensure workers have access to comfortable, well-fitted hearing protection. This might involve trialling different types of hearing protection such as over-ear defenders or in-ear plugs.9
  • Remember, risk will differ according to individual factors of workers such as ageing, hereditary factors, and exposure to recreational noise outside of work such as loud music.
  • Finally, your health surveillance informs OSH professionals as to how adequate the control measures are, and where an issue is flagged, the hierarchy of risk control should be implemented to reduce the risk.9


  1. Anon, (n.d.). NIOSH Noise: A 50-Year Timeline of Research and Intervention, Blogs, CDC. [online]
  2. (n.d.). Noise-induced hearing loss. [online]
  3. Noise guidelines for the European Region executive summary. (n.d.).
  4. World Health Organization (2024). Deafness and hearing loss. [online] WHO.
  5. Themann, C., Suter, A. and Stephenson, M. (2013). National Research Agenda for the Prevention of Occupational Hearing Loss—Part 1. Seminars in Hearing, 34(03), pp.145–207. doi:
  6. Basner, M., Babisch, W., Davis, A., Brink, M., Clark, C., Janssen, S. and Stansfeld, S., 2014. Auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health. The lancet, 383(9925), pp.1325-1332.
  7. (n.d.). HSE - Noise: Advice for employers. [online]
  8. World Health Organization (2023). Deafness and hearing loss. [online]
  9. Hailstone, J. (2024). Noise exposure: turning down the volume. [online] IOSH Magazine.

International Noise Awareness Day

This annual event takes place on 24 April 2024. It helps raise awareness of the harmful effects of noise and inspire positive action in communities worldwide.

Last updated: 03 May 2024

Eloise Byrne CertIOSH

Job role
OSH Content Developer


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