29 September 2010

Noise affects our physical and mental well being

A major Swedish study shows that noise has a great affect on our lives. Not just at work but also in our free time. The consequences are hearing loss, stress, uneasiness, concentration difficulty and many other symptoms.

You might recognise the situation: You are I a café trying to hold a conversation with your friends over a cup of coffee, but the conversation is constantly being interrupted by other peoples talking, chairs scraping across the floor, telephones ringing, thundering espresso machines and music which drowns out everything else. The conversation is difficult to follow, you get a headache, you feel tired, you cannot concentrate and in the worst instance you can get a hearing impairment.

The Swedish study, which is conducted by Hörselskadades Riksförbund (HRF), a large, Swedish interest group for the hearing impaired, shows that it is not just in the traditional noisy workplaces such as building sites and factories that noise can have negative consequences. We can also be affected by noise in offices, schools and in our free time.

Bothersome noise at work

According to the study, 57% are disturbed by noise in the office and 51% of the 142 journalists asked reported that it was difficult to concentrate at work. Among teachers and pedagogues, 67% answered that they think the noise they experience in the workplace is a problem and 57% experience that it is difficult to hear what the pupils are saying. The sound level in schools is often around 65-78 decibels. In order for a teacher to be heard, they must speak at a level of 75-88 decibels, which is equivalent to the sound of heavy traffic. That is a level which is directly damaging for ones hearing.

People with hearing loss hit extra hard

A bad sound environment hits people with hearing loss extra hard. People with normal hearing can carry on a conversation with ca. 10 decibels more surrounding noise than people with hearing loss. As many as 68% of those in the study who had hearing loss see the level of noise at work as a problem, whereas only 47% of those with normal hearing said the same. Some are hit so hard that they are given incapacity benefit. Among women with reduced hearing, 11.6% are given incapacity benefit, whereas only 5.7% of those with normal hearing are given it.

Free time can also be noisy

Even when we are not at work we are still bombarded by noise. For example, 51% of those asked reported that they had trouble hearing what was being said in a café, even though 93% believe that a good sound acoustic environment is important. As a consequence, every other person opts not to go to a café with bad sound. More than 30% have even left a café because of too much noise.

What can be done?

Hörselskadades Riksförbund, who have carried out the study, believe that the way to better sound around us, and therefore less hearing loss, is through a better environmental policy. There needs to be more legislation and focus on the problem. Furthermore, they encourage all consumers to use their consumer rights by choosing cafes which have done something about the problem over cafes with too much noise. The group also wishes for more study in this field.

Kilde: Kakofonien, En rapport om störende ljud och samtalsvänliga ljudmiljöer, udgivet af Hörselskadades Riksförbund 2010.

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