Exposure to excessive noise and vibration can seriously damage your health. Long-term exposure can cause your ears to become more sensitive, leaving them prone to afflictions such as hyperacusis, tinnitus and even deafness.
Hyperacusis and Tinnitus
Hyperacusis is a condition that causes intolerance to everyday sounds. Causing significant distress and affecting a person’s ability to carry on with their day-to-day activities, the severity of the condition can vary considerably. Some sufferers may experience pain, even when hearing ordinary sounds. It can affect people of all ages and there’s no known cure.
Tinnitus or “ringing in the ears” can cause us to hear constant noises including whistling, humming, pulsing or hissing. Impacting on everyday life, it can sometimes be severe causing insomnia and depression. There are techniques to help sufferers cope with tinnitus, although there’s no specific cure.
Deafness can result from long-term exposure to noise and vibration – repeated subjection to sounds of 85 decibels and above can result in the loss of hearing.
Excessive noise in the workplace can cause industrial deafness. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive suggest that more than one million UK employees are at risk of hearing problems due to their working conditions, such as noisy industrial environments.
Even recreational activities can put you at risk – playing in a band and listening to loud music. As a result, people who work in the entertainment industry can suffer with hearing problems.
Gardeners who constantly use motorised lawnmowers and leaf blowers or craftsmen using woodworking tools can also be at risk.
Living near Excessive Noise
People living near main roads with heavy city traffic can suffer 85 decibels of noise, while motorbikes create 95 decibels of noise.
Building sites and factories can produce continuous loud noise and vibrations that can lead to problems. Not only can nearby residents suffer from sleepless nights and stress, they can also suffer hearing problems in the long term.
Brief exposure to loud noises, such as gunshots or nail and rivet guns, can also cause permanent effects.
Noise and the Law
Legislation has been put in place to protect people from problems associated with excessive noise. In the workplace, the Health and Safety Executive applies policies to help companies protect their employees’ hearing under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.
Local councils will look into complaints about excessive noise that could constitute a “statutory nuisance”. This is covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The noise must “unreasonably and substantially” interfere with people’s enjoyment or use of their home or premises; injure health; or be likely to injure health to count as a statutory nuisance.
If noise emits from premises other than a dwelling the council can advise the person responsible that they may be guilty of an offence due to the sounds exceeding the permitted level – they are given a set period to reduce the noise levels. If the noise still exceeds the legal level after the time stipulated the council can take steps to prosecute, which can mean hefty financial penalties for offenders.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 also covers noise pollution from entertainment venues such as pubs and clubs.
Companies, organisations and individuals who are potentially causing a noise nuisance should take steps to resolve the problem before they are prosecuted. Acoustic consultants who design and supply sound enclosures and noise control products such as acoustic walls, screens and louvres can be employed to provide a solution.