The impact of noise at work

Exposure to noise at work can harm workers’ health. The most well-known effect of noise at work is loss of hearing, a problem observed among coppersmiths in 1731.

However, it can also exacerbate

stress and increase the risk of accidents. This article describes the effects of workplace noise.

Hearing impairment

Hearing impairment can be due to a mechanical blockage in the

transmission of sound to the inner ear (conductive hearing loss)

or damage to the hair cells in the cochlea, part of the inner ear

(sensorineural hearing loss). Rarely, hearing impairment may also

be caused by central auditory processing disorders (when the

auditory centres of the brain are affected).

Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common occupational

disease in Europe, accounting for about one third of

all work-related diseases, ahead of skin and respiratory problems


NIHL is usually caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise. The

first symptom is normally the inability to hear high-pitched

sounds. Unless the problem of excessive noise is addressed, a

person’s hearing will deteriorate further, including difficulties detecting

lower-pitched sounds. This will normally occur in both

ears. The damage of noise-induced hearing loss is permanent.

Hearing loss can occur without long-term exposures. Brief exposure

to impulsive noises (even a single strong impulse), such as

from gunshots or nail or rivet guns can have permanent effects,

including loss of hearing and continuous tinnitus. Impulses can

also split the eardrum membrane. This is painful but the damage

is healable.


Tinnitus is a ringing, hissing or booming sensation in your ears.

Excessive exposure to noise increases the risk of tinnitus. If the

noise is impulsive (e.g. blasting), the risk can rise substantially.

Tinnitus can be the first sign that your hearing has been damaged

by noise.

Noise and chemicals

Some dangerous substances are ototoxic (literally ‘ear poisoning’).

Workers exposed to some of these substances and to loud

noise appear to be at greater risk of hearing damage than those

exposed to either noise or the substances separately.

This synergy has been particularly noted between noise and

some organic solvents, including toluene, styrene, and carbon

disulphide. These substances may be used in noisy environments

in sectors such as the plastics and printing industries, and paint

and lacquer manufacturing.

Noise and pregnant workers

Exposure of pregnant workers to high noise levels at work can

affect the unborn child. ‘Prolonged exposure to loud noise may

lead to increased blood pressure and tiredness. Experimental

evidence suggests that prolonged exposure of the unborn child

 From: osha.europa