Noise is any annoying, disturbing or unwanted sound.
Noise can have
many effects on people. It can:
- irritate people;
- interfere with verbal communication;
- reduce working efficiency;
- disturb sleep;
- damage hearing.
Sounds can be interpreted as music, a story, a joke, a warning or an endless array of other possible signals. Sound
can often bring us great pleasure, but it can also annoy us, or those around us.
have varying tolerance levels for sounds. If the sound goes
beyond the tolerance level, it is classified as noise, but this
depends on the characteristics of the particular person as well as the
sound. For example, a group of people might enjoy playing loud rap music at 3a.m.
The same sounds might not be appreciated by their neighbours! Likewise, a crying baby needs to able to make its parents
hear when it requires feeding – other members of the family might be annoyed by the same sounds.
noise come from? Almost every aspect of modern life generates noise – industrial processes, construction, office work and even
home and leisure activities. Industrial production and construction
are rapidly increasing in many countries and this brings with it
an increase in industrial or 'occupational' noise.
If we expose ourselves to extreme noise levels, then damage to our hearing can easily occur. Ultimately this could lead to severe deafness and to exclusion and isolation from society. Therefore, it is essential that we take good care of our hearing.
|Noise or sound is created by alternate compression and decompression of particles of the air. This causes the air pressure to fall and rise in the form of waves. Frequency (pitch) and intensity (loudness) are the two characteristics of sound.
Frequency is the number of times that the air is compressed and decompressed in a
second, and is measured in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz). Low frequency produces a low pitched,
bass sound. High frequency produces a high pitched,
whistle sound. Human ears respond to frequencies between 20Hz and
20,000Hz. The human voice produces frequencies between
500Hz and 2,000Hz. Below 20Hz and above 20,000 Hz sound cannot be heard but it can still be harmful.
The ear is most sensitive to sounds between 1000 and
The infra-sounds and the ultra-sounds, although not heard by humans, produce feelings of nausea, giddiness and headache in people exposed to them. Infra-sounds are the most
subtle and can occur in aeroplanes and other vehicles. Noise from heavy road vehicles can penetrate the walls of houses.
to hear sounds at different frequencies.
They are pure tones or sine waves. The last sound
increases from 20Hz to 20,000Hz and is called a 'swept
Intensity is the amount of sound energy reaching the
eardrum, and is measured in decibels (dB). Zero decibels
is the faintest sound that the average person can hear,
and the loudest sound may be more than a million times
this level. This is because the intensity of sound does not rise
gradually - each increase of 10 decibels means that the
intensity increases 10 times. For example, a 10
decibel sound is 10 times louder than a 1 decibel sound;
a 20 decibel sound is 100 times louder than a 1 decibel
sound (10x10); 30 decibels are 1000 times louder (10x10x10), and so on.
The ear responds to intensities from 0 to 140dB.
Discomfort is felt at 120dB, and near 140dB, pain is
felt with possible rupture and permanent damage to the eardrum.
Some noise intensity measurements are given in
a measure called 'dB(A)' which takes into account the frequency sensitivity of the ear.
dB(A) measurements are obtained on a noise meter which weights the different frequency
components. For example, the noise intensity for a
circular saw, and the noise intensity inside a bus have
the same value when expressed in dB. But the noise from
a circular saw contains a greater proportion of high
frequencies, and is more annoying than the noise inside a bus. Therefore, the circular saw has a higher
European law now requires manufacturers of tools and appliances to state the noise emission levels
of their products. This allows customers to choose quieter machines and gives the manufacturers some incentive to create quiet designs.
Some examples of noise
levels are shown below.
engine 25m away; Shotgun blast
takeoff 100m away
band; Jet takeoff 600m away
mower; Pneumatic drill; Tractor
top car ride on motorway; Food blender; Heavy
traffic 5m away
clock; Sink garbage disposal
limit for hearing conversation
cleaner; Private car
at 1m; Singing birds
traffic 30m away; Quiet office
whisper at 5m
|Anatomy of hearing
Hearing is the function of the auditory system, which is organised to
detect several aspects of sound, including pitch, loudness and
A sensation of hearing is caused when sound waves pass through the ear passage, resulting in the vibration of the eardrum.
This, in turn, activates a lever system of three small bones
- the hammer (malleus), the anvil (incus) and the stirrup (stapes), situated in the
air-filled cavity of the middle ear. The stirrup sets up vibrations in the fluid-filled inner ear and the mechanical vibrations are transformed into nervous impulses, which
travel to the auditory cortex in the brain and are recognised as sound.
Why does your voice sound different on
a tape recording?
When you hear yourself speak you are
hearing some extra vibration produced by the passage of sound waves
through your skull. Your voice as played by a tape recorder is the way
it sounds to someone else, who receives the sound waves only through the
How can you tell the direction of a
Depending on the position of your head,
sound reaches the ear closest to its source about 1/1500 of a second
sooner than the other ear. Also, the sound is a little louder in the
closer ear. These differences are recognised and analysed by your brain
to tell you where the sound is coming from.
|The effects of noise
Legal requirements for noise
In the UK the
Noise at Work Regulations limit the noise to which an employer can expose the employees. It is based on three Action Levels:
First Action Level: 85dB(A) for 8 hours per day. Employees can demand hearing protection.
Second Action Level: 90dB(A) for 8 hours per day. Employees must wear suitable hearing protection.
Peak Action Level: 140dB(A). This must never be exceeded.
If workers are exposed to noise for more than 8 hours per day, these levels must be reduced. Conversely, if workers are exposed to noise greater than these levels, then the duration of their exposure
to the noise must be reduced.
The following are the recommended noise exposure levels in the
noise level (dB(A))
(hrs per day)
It is likely that these levels will be reduced in the near future due to new legislation called the
Physical Agents (Noise) Directive from the European Commission. This will apply across the European Union.
The main effect of noise is the development of deafness, especially when
you are exposed to high levels of continuous noise, for example, during working hours. This may result in
'noise-induced occupational deafness'. There is no cure and no
treatment for deafness. Damage to your hearing is permanent, and
will never get better.
Occupational deafness is a gradual process of reduction of hearing ability associated with damage to the cochlea. Occupational deafness does not occur accidentally; it is a result of
not reducing exposure to noise, for example, by moving out of a
noisy environment or wearing hearing protection. The initial
loss of hearing occurs at frequencies above those involved in speech
(500-2,000Hz) and consequently considerable loss can occur before the effect becomes noticeable to
you. The obvious danger is that considerable damage may have occurred to the hearing mechanism before
you become aware of it, and in later life, this deafness will become worse because of the natural effects of the
The adverse effect of noise on hearing depends on the characteristics of a
- its intensity - it is probable that sounds of less than 80dB intensity do not cause
- its frequency - tones of 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000Hz frequency
are considered to produce the greatest damage,
- its duration - in terms of
your exposure during the working day and during your working life.
Your exposure should be more limited at frequencies and
intensities that are likely to cause damage.
Noise and performance
Noise causes fatigue and loss of concentration and efficiency, resulting in a decrease in work output and an
increase in the number of mistakes made. Work involving learning is more susceptible
to disruption from noise than routine work. This could be of importance to a school leaver training on-the-job in a noisy work environment.
The comprehension of speech is affected by both the sound level of the background noise
and the sound level of the
voice itself. The average intensity of a human voice in a room at a distance of one metre lies within the following ranges:
The general background noise level must be at least
10dB(A) below these levels if the sound of the voice is to be
for noise levels
|Noise generated by
humans, such as voices, dropping of objects, noisy children, can be a strong irritant. Background noise,
determined by the environment around you can also be an irritant.
Proximity of schools, operation of street cleaning equipment or refuse collection,
and traffic noise can all contribute to increased noise exposure. In 1994 it was estimated that 22% of residents in Europe (77 million people)
were exposed to transportation noise of more than 65dB(A); this level is considered to be
unacceptable. In general, different residential areas have different background noise and may range from
'very quiet suburban' to 'very noisy residential'.
Many leisure activities have become major sources of noise and hazards to hearing. Levels in night clubs can exceed 100dB(A). Most
visitors are exposed to this only for a few hours per week, but DJs, musicians, bar and security staff are working in this all the time and may be at risk of damage to their hearing.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) provides some guidance on acceptable levels of noise in the community.
annoyance, daytime and evening
annoyance, daytime and evening
||Speech intelligibility and moderate annoyance, daytime and evening
bedrooms or hospital ward rooms
disturbance, night time
disturbance (window open)
||Speech intelligibility, disturbance of information extraction, message communication
with rest and recovery
low as possible
|Industrial, commercial, shopping and traffic areas
|Ceremonies, festivals and entertainment events
When should a display 'flash' and when should it 'beep'? Answer