Workplace Noise Vs COVID 19 Risk
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Noise in the workplace is usually associated with causing damage to employees hearing, but could it also be increasing the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus?
The UK government and the Scottish government both put in place temporary additional noise controls for businesses in the hospitality sector in the summer of 2020. The basis for doing this was to reduce the need for raising voices and shouting with the overall aim to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
This new statutory guidance stands to reason! After all, there is a good understanding of how the virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets that are released into the atmosphere from peoples mouths and noses as they speak, cough and sneeze. Raising your voice or shouting increases the spread of the infected respiratory droplets thus increasing the risk of infecting others in the vicinity. Noisy environments also encourage people to move closer to aid communication, another know factor in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is maintaining a social distance of 2m.
Some workplaces can present noisy environments depending on the type of work that is being undertaken. The Control of Noise At Work Regulations 2005 sets out clear exposure limits and action values that employers need to adhere to stay on the right side of the law and protect their employees health. However, there is now more at risk than just employees hearing.
A number of factories in the UK have had coronavirus outbreaks where noise maybe a contributing factor:
There are lots of other controls that need to be considered to adequately control the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Face coverings, social distancing, increased cleaning regimes, one way systems, staggered start and finish times are but a few examples of other controls for the spread of COVID-19.
For the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on noise.
There is a lot more to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations than just setting out the requirements of exposure limits and action values. One of the main component's is to carry out an assessment of the risk to health if an employee is liable to be exposed to noise at or above a lower exposure action value. But how do you know if this assessment is required?
Here is a simple test that you can do to help determine if a noise risk assessment is required:
*If your workplace is intrinsically noisy, ie it is significantly noisier than you would expect from the sounds of everyday life, it is possible that the noise levels will exceed 80 dB. This is comparable to the noise level of a busy street, a typical vacuum cleaner or a crowded restaurant – you will be able to hold a conversation, but the noise will be intrusive. Working in an environment of 80 dB for eight hours will result in exposure at the lower exposure action value.
As you can see that the time exposed to noise plays a big part in determining if a risk assessment is required. This risk assessment is focused around the impact of noise in a traditional sense, mostly focused on the health risk to employees hearing. However, we have already discussed that there is a link between noise in the workplace and an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Controlling noise in the workplace always made good business sense but now it takes on a new dimension.
At Blue Turtle Ltd, we can help you protect your workforce by carrying out a Workplace Noise Monitoring survey to help you establish what level of exposure your employees are being exposed to. More importantly , we can help you identify noise sources and the pathways on which the noise travels and provide you with suitable recommendations on how to reduce noise in your workplace. This goes beyond the usual personal hearing protection controls that most people adopt, and even though they can be effective at reducing noise exposure they will not control the spread of COVID-19.
When you start to consider the bigger picture, the control of workplace noise could have a positive impact on reducing staff sickness. Not just from COVID-19 but also from other virus's spread in a similar way such as the common cold and seasonal flu's.
Having some workplace noise monitoring carried out makes exceptionally good business sense! Give us a call today to discuss your needs and let Blue Turtle Ltd help you reduce the noise levels in your workplace for a safer more productive environment.
You can also get in touch with us if you would like to discuss any of the content in this blog or if you have any other health hazard concerns that you need some help with.