No matter the industry, industrial workers of every stripe more than earn their daily bread. Industrial work is usually exhausting, arduous, and frequently dangerous work. These laborers are often routinely exposed to an array of health risks, from falls and fractures to sprains and strains. And then there is the heavy machinery, the massive vehicles, and monumental equipment populating warehouses and production lines across the nation and around the world. Indeed, the number of non-fatal workplace illnesses and injuries in the US private industry was estimated at nearly three million in 2019.
What all this means is that industrial workers are already accustomed to a certain amount of risk on the job. What they may not expect, however, are the significant harms that may derive from a seemingly innocuous source: The loud noises of the industrial workplace.
On-the-job noise pollution is far more than an annoyance for industrial workers. The evidence of the often profound, wide-ranging, and long-lasting harms of industrial noise is vast and growing (1, 2, 3). This article examines the myriad health and safety risks associated with industrial noise and discusses urgently needed solutions to mitigate these risks and better protect industrial workers.
Perhaps the most obvious and least surprising of the health risks associated with industrial noise pollution is hearing loss. Research has shown that not only is hearing loss a common consequence of industrial work but that existing measures taken to prevent occupational hearing loss among industrial workers, including the use of personal hearing protection devices and engagement in hearing loss prevention training courses, have, thus far, been largely ineffective (4, 5, 6).
The evidence also suggests that some populations are more vulnerable than others to occupational hearing loss. For instance, Wang et al. (2021) found that males faced a significantly greater risk than females for experiencing high frequency hearing loss (HFHL) related to cumulative industrial noise exposure (7).
While the risk of hearing loss related to chronic noise exposure in the industrial workplace may be unsurprising, research has shown that this is far from the only harm industrial workers may face. Indeed, the evidence suggests that noise pollution in industrial worksites significantly increases workers’ risk of cardiovascular disease (8, 9). Tesser-Sherman et al. (2017) found that industrial noise exposure was associated with an elevated risk of hypertension in workers (10). Similarly, Erikkson et al. (2021) found that female paper mill workers who had experienced significant, long-term industrial noise exposure were far more likely than the general population to suffer fatal heart attacks before reaching retirement age (2).
Cognitive Impairments and Other Physical Health Risks
In addition to the substantial auditory and cardiovascular risk, there is also mounting evidence that occupational noise exposure leaves industrial workers vulnerable to both short-term and long-range cognitive impairment. Wang et al. (2022) found that chronic noise exposure was associated with substantial declines in cognitive performance, with particular impacts on subjects’ attentional capacities (11).
In addition, Cui et al. (2018) identified significant changes in the gut microbiome and resulting impacts in the gut-brain axis that have been strongly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (12). Further, in a wide-ranging study out of the United Kingdom, Clark et al. (2020) found that cumulative noise exposure could be linked not only to cognitive decline and dementia but also to other, seemingly unrelated, health risks, ranging from cancer to infertility (13).
Mental Health Risks
Given the significant and wide-ranging physical health risks associated with cumulative noise exposure (CNE), it’s perhaps unsurprising that noise-exposed industrial workers should also find themselves vulnerable to mental health impacts. In a study of factory workers and miners, Lu et al. (2020) found that workplace noise substantially exacerbated workers’ perceived job stress even as it decreased their sense of emotional and psychological well-being (14).
In addition, Fouladi Dehaghi et al. (2021) found that chronic noise exposure in industrial workers contributed to cortisol dysregulation (15). More specifically, the researchers found that industrial noise-exposed workers experienced an increase in salivary cortisol levels, even in conditions of rest and quiet, when the stress hormone levels of the control group declined (15). What this suggests, the researchers concluded, is that noise exposure triggers a semi-permanent or permanent state of hyperarousal in these workers that links to chronic stress. Such chronic stress, researchers have found, often activates a cascade into a range of associated mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression (16, 17).
Though the diversity and significance of the health risks associated with industrial noise exposure may be surprising, the fact that noise exposure does indeed pose a risk to industrial workers likely is not. This is perhaps best evidenced by the body of regulations instituted by OSHA to help mitigate noise exposure in the workplace. The OSHA standard, for instance, is that workers must not be exposed to more than 90 dBA, cumulatively, in an eight-hour workday.
However, OSHA standards also require employers to conduct a hearing conservation program with employees when noise exposure levels exceed 85 decibels averaged over an eight-hour workday. The ultimate goal of this program is to provide employees with the information they need to protect themselves from excessive environmental noise, including the consistent and appropriate use of protective devices, such as earplugs, muffs, and other hearing protection devices (HPD).
In addition to employee education and the provision of HPDs, OSHA also requires employers to use engineering, structural, and operational techniques to minimize environmental noise whenever possible. This includes the use of sound barriers and sound insulators to reduce machine noise. Despite these standards, a noise comparison study published by Purdue University has shown that industrial worksites often exceed OSHA’s safety threshold. Indeed, the Purdue study found that the average noise level of a steel mill was around 110 decibels.
How FSorb Can Help
At FSorb, we are proud to offer effective, affordable, and environmentally friendly noise-remediating products for residential, commercial, and industrial use. Our EPIQ product line is a widely popular choice for noise mitigation in industrial environments, including factories, mills, and warehouses.
We can help you design your industrial facility with OSHA standards in mind. The EPIQ line, for example, offers powerful noise correction capabilities that are ideal for industrial environments. Each 1” panel boasts a remarkable 0.70 noise reduction coefficient (NRC). That means that when you outfit your industrial space with FSorb solutions you will meet and are likely even to exceed the rigorous standards established in OSHA’s hearing conservation program!
Indeed, we are proud to be a leading supplier of sound remediation products for some of the world’s largest enterprises. For instance, our products can be found in Amazon distribution centers across the United States. Contact your local FSorb distributor to explore our products and discuss how FSorb’s innovative technologies can work for your organization!
At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.
Li, X., Dong, Q., Wang, B., Song, H., Wang, S., & Zhu, B. (2019). The Influence of Occupational Noise Exposure on Cardiovascular and Hearing Conditions among Industrial Workers. Scientific reports, 9(1), 11524. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-47901-2
Eriksson, H. P., Söderberg, M., Neitzel, R. L., Torén, K., & Andersson, E. (2021). Cardiovascular mortality in a Swedish cohort of female industrial workers exposed to noise and shift work. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 94(2), 285–293. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-020-01574-x
Nserat, S., Al-Musa, A., Khader, Y. S., Abu Slaih, A., & Iblan, I. (2017). Blood Pressure of Jordanian Workers Chronically Exposed to Noise in Industrial Plants. The international journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 8(4), 217–223. https://doi.org/10.15171/ijoem.2017.1134
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