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Noise pollution in the workplace: sources, impact and solutions

The different sources of noise pollution
The different sources of noise pollution


Pop culture made a mint at one time portraying offices as harsh, uncaring, and terrible places for their employees to work. However the mindset that once inspired those portrayals has gone the way of the Dodo. Now managers and office designers know the value of a dynamic and comfortable workplace to increase productivity. There are a lot of invisible aspects to the issue, including noise pollution, which modern workplaces are trying to eradicate.

Common Sources of Noise Pollution

A primary source of noise pollution in the office space is the ventilation system, particularly the heating and cooling aspects. The noise comes from the system kicking off and the increased volume of the forced airflow that pushes the warmer/cooler air around. Luckily, the standard HVAC style air circulation methods aren’t nearly as loud. 

The next noise is completely outside the building’s control, as it’s outside the building itself. Traffic noises and construction sounds that seep their way into the office space contribute to noise pollution. Although traffic is a nearly constant problem in lots of place, construction noises should eventually disappear. 

Another major contributor to loud offices is the open office plans that are becoming more and more common. While it encourages comradery, it also encourages conversation, and there are a lot fewer buffers between a person and the variety of noises they face on a daily basis. 

The last common source of office pollution is from working in the office itself. Others speaking loudly, obnoxious ringtones, and the sound of printers and copy machines are all huge contributors to office noise pollution. According to a study from the University of Sydney, disrespect of sound privacy is the biggest drain on employee well-being.

Impacts of Noise Pollution in the Office

Noise pollution is a serious problem; too much noise is overall bad for human health and wellness. Noise is simply a distraction, it pulls a worker’s focus from what they’re doing and increases the stress that they feel while working. Certain volumes and patterns of sound are even used in modern torture methods. Our bodies like natural, peaceful, and generally quiet atmospheres. 

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common occupational illness in Europe, accounting for near 30% of all work-related diseases, ahead of skin and respiratory problems. 

Having too much noise in your day to day life can overwhelm your mind and cause stress. Compound that problem by expecting people to work productively and we find that not only is our hearing and mental health being damaged, but our ergonomics are affected as well. 

What’s more, when it is simply “too noisy” people are a lot less likely to sit with good posture, which will end up causing physical and chronic pains, and reducing their overall productivity over time as well. 

Studies have shown that being subject to noise pollution can alter and reduce a worker’s productivity by 60-70%. Productivity goes straight to the bottom line, the cost of maintaining mental and physical health is detrimental to both employees and employers. The bottom line: noise pollution ends up being expensive for everyone. Taking steps to reduce noise pollution can result in substantial economic boost.

 

The cost of maintaining mental and physical health is detrimental to both employees and employers.

Noise Pollution Solutions

It’s important to plan your offices with noise pollution in mind, adding noise absorbers where appropriate. If there’s a busy street, maybe make those windows thicker, and take steps to keep the traffic and outside noises from getting inside and all but poisoning your employees’ ears.

In order to pinpoint the problem, tools exist that allow you to assess a number of factors, including noise pollution. GreenMe’s cube and analysis software evaluates the quality of the workspace environment.

Once you have established a noise pollution issue: attack it smartly. Segregate the copy machine and other noisier office machines into a room that can act as a barrier between the employees and the noise. Designate some spaces as “quiet spaces” where relief can be found from the constant battery, and then designate some spaces “loud spaces”, where someone can have a loud phone conversation. Turn the volume on the office phone’s ringers down so they’re less abrasive.

It’s not always big sweeping steps like sticking up noise absorbing panels everywhere, or ripping out walls to put in better sound-proof insulation. Sometimes it’s just small, little steps that can make substantial differences in your employee’s health, happiness, and ultimately productivity at work over time.